STOCKHOLM – Activists from Nepal, Nigeria, Brazil and Israel were named the winners Thursday of this year's Right Livelihood Award, also known as the "alternative Nobel," for work that includes fighting to save the Amazon rain forest and bringing health care to Palestinians cut off from services.
The recipients will split the €200,000 ($270,000) cash award founded by Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull in 1980 to recognize work he felt was being ignored by the Nobel Prizes.
Nigeria's Nnimmo Bassey, 42, chairman of Friends of the Earth International and director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria, was honored for standing up "against the practices of multinational corporations in his country and the environmental devastation they leave behind."
The citation praised Bassey for helping reveal the "ecological and human horrors of oil production and for his inspired work to strengthen the environmental movement in Nigeria and globally."
It also recognized Catholic Bishop Erwin Kraeutler, 71, for his "lifetime of work for the human and environmental rights of indigenous peoples" in Brazil and for his "tireless efforts to save the Amazon forest from destruction."
Kraeutler, who has dual Brazilian-Austrian citizenship, helped secure the inclusion of indigenous people's rights in the Brazilian constitution in the 1980s, the prize committee said.
He has also played an important role in the protests against plans to build the world's third-largest hydroelectric plant, Belo Monte on the Xingu River in Brazil, which activists say would devastate wildlife and the livelihoods of some 40,000 people.
"He is being threatened for this work and has police protection," the executive director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Ole von Uexkull, told reporters in Stockholm. "We hope that the prize will also help protect this man."
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann praised Kraeutler for his "tireless commitment" and said his efforts show how individuals can make a difference in improving human rights and protecting the environment.
The jury also honored 65-year-old Shrikrishna Upadhyay for his persistent fight against poverty in Nepal, "even when threatened by political violence and instability."
Upadhyay founded the organization Support Activities for Poor Producers of Nepal, through which he has helped build hundreds of water systems, rural roads and schools in 12 districts in Nepal. He has also set up micro-credit systems to support local communities and helped plant trees and improve literacy.
"What is so special with his way of working in this very poor country is that it is really development work from the bottom up," von Uexkull said. "He doesn't go to a village and offer some kind of technical solution, but he starts by making people aware of why they are poor, and what they could do to become richer. Then he helps them organize themselves."
The organization Physicians for Human Rights Israel was included among the winners for its "indomitable spirit in working for the right to health for all people in Israel and Palestine."
The PHRIA, which was founded in 1988, uses mobile clinics to bring health services to Israelis and Palestinians.
"Although they are physicians they also see themselves as a political organization. They participate in the debate about health policies in Israel," von Uexkull said. "Primarily they claim that the biggest reason for poor health in Israel today is the occupation (of Gaza)."
Ole Von Uexkull said he sees The Right Livelihood Award as a complement to the Nobel Prizes, which are awarded for achievements in science, peace, literature and economics.
The awards will be presented to the four recipients in a ceremony at the Swedish Parliament on Dec. 6, four days before the Nobel Prizes are handed out.
Associated Press Writer Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna contributed to this report.