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Chiang Rai Teacher Awarded 2022 Goldman Environmental Prize

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A Teacher and founder of the Chiang Khong Conservation Group in Chiang Rai, Thailand, has been awarded a 2022 Goldman Environmental Award, one of the world’s pre-eminent awards for grassroots environmental activism.

Niwat Roykaew, a teacher and environmentalist, has campaigned for more than 20 years to project the Mekong River ecosystem.

He is one of only six prize recipients to receive the award this year.

During today’s virtual ceremony in the United States, Mr. Niwat, aka Kru Thi, accepted the Chiang Rai Teacher Awarded 2022 Goldman Environmental Award.

The group recognized Mr. Niwat’s unwavering opposition to blasting along stretches of the Mekong River to construct a navigation channel for Chinese cargo ships.

As a result of the work of Mr Niwat and other civil groups, the cabinet voted to cancel the transboundary project.

China and Thailand began working together on a joint blasting project in 2000. The Chinese government announced that it would blast an 886-kilometer stretch of the Mekong river, linking the southern part of China with Luang Prabang in Laos and Chiang Rai in Thailand.

2004 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner Praised Niwat

Upon completion, the channel would have allowed barges up to 500 tons to navigate the river all year round.

Together with local residents and civic groups, Mr. Niwat presented key facts and figures estimating the detrimental environmental impacts of approving the plan.

On Feb 4, 2021, the Thai cabinet announced the project had been canceled despite visits by Chinese and Thai government officials.

Mr. Niwat said, “If we do not stand up for the Mekong River, it will be destroyed completely. The Mekong River has an economic impact on many countries. We are helping and protecting those people.”.

2004 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Tuenjai Deetes said that Mr Niwat had devoted 20 years to protecting the life of the Mekong River. Through his collaboration with civil groups, NGOs, and the government sectors, he created awareness among locals and officials about improved water management.

In Ms. Tuenjai’s view, the people living in riverine areas will suffer if China’s government and private sector take over the Mekong. It is rare for governments to cancel projects on the Mekong River, but Kru Thi was able to do so against all odds, she said.

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