Indian Biologist Purnima Devi Barman receives UN’s highest environmental award


New Delhi: India’s Dr. Purnima Devi Barman  on Tuesday received  UN’s highest environmental honour, “Champion of the Earth award”  for  conservering Stock, a bird that was to become her life’s passion in the state of Assam.

Wildlife biologist, Purnima received the award in the category of  “Entrepreneurial Vision”, to lead the “Hargila Army”,  a group female working for rehabilitation and conserve Stork “back from the brink of extinction” by empowering thousands of women, creating entrepreneurs and improving livelihoods.

As a child in Cameroon, she recalled that her grandmother took her to nearby paddy fields and wetlands where she “saw storks and many other species”. “I fell in love with the birds”, Ms. Barman said after receiving the award.

At the age of five, Barman was sent to live with her grandmother on the banks of the Brahmaputra River of Assam. Separated from her parents and siblings, the girl became inconsolable.  To distract her, Barman’s grandmother, a farmer, started taking her to nearby paddy fields and wetlands to teach her about the birds there.

After completing Master’s degree in Zoology, She began her campaign to protect the stork in 2007, focusing on the villages in Assam’s Kamrup District where the birds were most concentrate.

To protect the stork, Ms Barman, founded ‘Hargila Army’a group of women  and mobilized a group of village women to protect and conserve them.  Today the “Hargila Army” consists of over 10,000 women. They protect nesting sites, rehabilitate injured storks.

Since Barman started her conservation programme, the number of nests in the villages of Dadara, Pachariya, and Singimari in Kamrup District have risen from 28 to more than 250, making this the largest breeding colony of greater adjutant storks in the world.

The Hargila Army  also has helped communities to plant 45,000 saplings near stork nesting trees and wetland areas in the hope they will support future stork populations.

There are plans to plant a further 60,000 saplings next year. The women also carry out cleaning drives on the banks of rivers and in wetlands to remove plastic from the water and reduce pollution.

“Purnima Devi Barman’s pioneering conservation work has empowered thousands of women, creating entrepreneurs and improving livelihoods while bringing the greater adjutant stork back from the brink of extinction,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) announced on Tuesday, the 2022 Champions of the Earth for their transformative action to prevent, halt or reverse ecosystem degradation.

UNEP’s annual Champions of the Earth award is the UN’s highest environmental honour, which recognizes individuals and organizations from a number of fields, including civil society, academia and the private sector, that are blazing a trail in protecting our natural world.

Three champions were honoured within the category of “Inspiration and Action”. The pioneering environmental non-profit group “Arcenciel” garnered the accolade for two decades of helping Lebanon manage its waste.

Meanwhile, Cécile Bibiane Ndjebet, co-founder of Cameroon Ecology and President of the African Women’s Network for Community Management of Forests, was recognized for her work in repairing damage caused by chopping down forests, draining wetlands, and polluting rivers at unstainable rates.

The organization Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos,founded in 2000 by biologist Constantino Aucca Chutas, has planted more than three million trees in Peru and protected or restored 30,000 hectares of land.

In the Science and Technology field, Partha Das Gupta received the award for his pioneering work in the  economics of biodiversity and awakening the world to the value of nature and the need to protect ecosystems.

“Economic forecasts consist of investment in factories, employment rates, and growth. They never mention what’s happening to the ecosystems,” said Mr. Dasgupta. “It really is urgent that we think about it now” he said.  


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