Oral Ataniyazova, an obstetrician who also holds a doctorate in medical science, was awarded the Goldman Prize in 2000 for her work to treat and raise public awareness about environmental and health problems surrounding Uzbekistan’s Amu Darya River corridor.
Early in the Soviet era, the entire region along the Amu Darya River (which includes Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) was designated for cotton production and the river was dammed to divert water for irrigation. The heavy use of pesticides and defoliants needed for this monoculture crop, as well as heavy metals from mining operations, and discharge from chemical and biological weapons factories severely polluted the region.
Due to the severity of the pollution in the area, it is believed that the region’s entire population was exposed to dangerous chemicals over extended periods of time. Public health in the region deteriorated with the worsening ecological situation, with a marked increase in rates of anemia, kidney and liver diseases, allergies, tuberculosis, birth defects and reproductive pathologies.
To help raise awareness about the effects of environmental pollution on human health, Ataniyazova established Perzent, the Karakalpak Center for Reproductive Health and Environment. Many of Perzent’s operations focus on women and how they can improve their lives, including family health and the quality of food and water. Perzent trains local groups in areas such as health and hygiene, sustainable agriculture, as well as women's and children's rights.
Today, Ataniyazova remains involved in Perzent as Chairperson. She has also broadened her efforts to improve Uzbekistan’s human and environmental health by taking on several new leadership roles.
In 2001, Ataniyazova became rector of the Nukas branch of the Tashkent Pediatric Medical Institute. The Medical Institute, under Ataniyazova’s leadership, prepares and trains medical students in environmental medicine, a field that focuses on human health aliments caused by environmental pollution.
In 2009, Ataniyazova won a seat with the local Parliament of Republic Karakalpakstan, where she is still serving today. Ataniyazova credits the Goldman Prize with helping her win the election and discusses how the Prize has impacted her life and career:
“The Goldman Prize has impacted my whole life and fate. It gave me international recognition and the power to be responsible for environmental activities, community development and personal development. I got great support from the government of Uzbekistan, international organizations, and local communities.
Winning the Goldman Prize helped me improve and strengthen my personal leadership skills and strengthen our organization (Perzent). It was also a key factor in winning a seat in my local parliament with major prevalence in 2009.
These achievements helped me to be more helpful to my community and develop international collaboration to improve the environmental situation in my country.”
To learn more about Oral and her work, visit her profile page and check out the video below: