Hiroshima mayor, China activists win ‘Asian Nobel’

The three-term mayor of Hiroshima who spearheaded a global campaign for nuclear disarmament and a photographer who documented river pollution in his native China are among the 2010 winners of the Ramon Magsaysay Awards.

The awards announced on Monday are considered Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize. They are named after a popular Philippine president who died in a plane crash in 1957.

Tadatoshi Akiba was three years old when a single American atomic bomb reduced the Japanese city of Hiroshima to ashes.

Wanting to keep the memory alive, Akiba had started a travel grants program through which American and other journalists visited and listened to the bomb survivors, called “hibakusha”.

As a Japanese lawmaker and later Hiroshima mayor, Akiba painfully recognised that his city had the moral obligation to warn the world of the nuclear danger, the Magsaysay Award organisers said. He led a movement called “Mayors for Peace” that includes more than 4,000 cities in 144 countries.

A newspaper photographer from Shenqiu in China's Henan province, Huo Daishan, 56, was so shocked by industrial pollution, poisonous fumes and dead fish in the Huai River — China's third largest — that he started to document it, armed with a cheap camera, pen and notebook. A one-man campaign became a full-time mission for Hou in 1998, when he organised a group called “Guardians of the Huai River” and staged his first exhibit by stringing together on a clothesline photographs of the river along a street in his village.

With more than 15,000 images, Hou eventually mounted 70 exhibitions across cities, universities and villages, exposing illegal activities of local officials and factory owners.

Although harassed, he did not give up, and succeeded in linking up with local authorities and industries to install deep water wells and low-cost water filters.

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