Two young Indian brothers win Children's Peace Prize for waste project
Indian brothers Vihaan and Nav Agarwal won a prestigious children’s prize on Saturday for a project they launched that aims to reduce waste and pollution and plant trees in their home city of New Delhi.
Vihaan, 17, and his 14-year-old brother, Nav, were handed the International Children’s Peace Prize by Indian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Satyarthi at a ceremony in The Hague, Netherlands.
They said they plan to use the prize and the recognition it brings to expand their network across India and beyond.
"Our thought process is that we need to get the whole world zero waste. And that means not only India, not only going to every single city, every town, every village, but to actually share this message with the whole world,” Vihaan told The Associated Press in an interview a day before the award ceremony.
'Waste shouldn't go there'
The brothers said that growing up in Delhi affected the asthmatic Vihaan's health, and curtailed the boys' ability to play outdoors and indulge their love of nature.
The spark of inspiration for their "One Step Greener" initiative came after the collapse of the Ghazipur landfill site in 2017, which killed two people and led to a spike in pollution.
One third of Delhi's air pollution is caused by burning waste in landfill sites. "The thought process in our mind was like, our waste shouldn't go there, our waste shouldn't become fodder for this fire," said Vihaan.
They also took inspiration from British naturalist David Attenborough and conservationist Jane Goodall, as well as their grandparents, they said.
'Make a difference'
The scheme grew from there. Starting with 15 homes in 2018, when they were aged 14 and 11, they now have 1,500 homes involved along with offices and schools, fitting the running of the initiative in around their school work.
"It's one thing to preach, but it's another to actually provide a solution and that's what we are trying to do through our work," said Vihaan.
The initiative operates in Delhi and a neighbouring city with plans to expand to Kolkata, while there has also been international interest. "Our main goal is to keep on maximising and expanding our efforts," added Nav.
They are also educating people in India about recycling, reaching an estimated 50,000 young people through social media as well as a curriculum in English and Hindi.
Vihaan said the success of One Step Greener should serve as a lesson for world leaders tackling climate change and pollution. "You have to be practical and think of solutions that are easy for people,” he said.
"As we saw with One Step … when we did a door to door pickup, it was exceptionally easy for people to just leave their waste outside. So you have to find these solutions, and there are plenty of young people who are finding these solutions all over the world. You have to encourage them.”
The award includes a study and care grant for the brothers and a fund of 100,000 euros, half of which goes to their project. The other half is invested by prize organizer KidsRights in other projects to support children’s rights.
KidsRights founder Marc Dullaert urged governments to do more to reduce pollution.
"All children have an inherent right to life and to health,” he said. "How are more than 90% of children in the world breathing toxic air?”
Previous winners of the prize include include Pakistani education advocate Malala Yousafzai and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.