Mumbai lawyer Afroz Shah to receive top UN environment award for
Versova Beach clean-up
- Shah and his 84-year-old neighbour Harbansh Mathur had started manually cleaning Versova Beach in 2015.
- The clean-up grew into a massive volunteer movement that saw 4,000 tons of garbage being picked up.
- UNEP has hailed the movement as an example of the key role of citizen action in protecting the environment.
The largest beach clean-up in the world would be a reward in itself. But for spearheading it, Mumbai-based lawyer Afroz Shah has been named as one of winners of the top environmental honour of the United Nations. Shah will be among those bestowed with the Champions of the Earth award for leading the clean-up of Mumbai’s Versova Beach.
Shah will receive the award under the ‘Action and Inspiration’ category for kick-starting a volunteer campaign to pick up, by hand, all the plastic bags, cement sacks, glass bottles, pieces of clothing, and shoes, that covered the entire 2.5-km stretch of the Versova Beach, even rising many feet high in some places.
The movement grew and grew over the past year and picked up a whopping 4,000 tons of garbage.
“Shah’s efforts, and the hundreds of volunteers he’s inspired, is a wonderful example of citizen action and reminds the rest of the world that even the most ambitious, global agreements are only as good as the individual action and determination that brings them to life. His outstanding leadership is drawing global attention to the devastating impacts of marine litter,” said United Nations Environment Project (UNEP) chief Erik Solheim, who had joined Shah in the clean-up for a day in October.
Lewis Pugh, the United Nations Patron of the Oceans, too, congratulated Shah in a twitter. “So delighted that Afroz Shah has won the UN’s highest award for his incredible efforts to clean Mumbai’s beaches!!” he tweeted. Pugh has for long hailed the Versova clean-up as the ‘largest beach clean-up in history’. He had made it a point to visit Mumbai
and take part in the clean-up in July.
“This award is in honour of the hundreds of volunteers who have joined me over the past year to clean up our beach and ocean. I am an ocean lover and feel that we owe a duty to our ocean to make it free of plastic,” said Shah as part of the announcement on the UNEP website.
“I just hope this is the beginning for coastal communities across India and the world – we have to win the fight against marine dumping and that involves getting our hands dirty. We humans need to reignite our bond with the ocean and we don’t have to wait for anybody else to help us do that,” he added. Shah and his 84-year-old neighbour, Harbansh Mathur, had started picking up garbage off the beach in July 2015. This grew into a movement, with a rising number of volunteers, outliving Mathur.