Will ban on metal mining ease El Salvador’s water crisis?
El Salvador, the smallest and most deforested nation in Central America, made history this week by becoming the first country to impose a nationwide ban on gold and other metal mining. Following a string of mass protests in the capital, San Salvador, the legislative assembly finally voted to approve a law to prohibit all forms of metal mining as an attempt to protect the environment and the nation’s natural resources.
Some countries have imposed bans on strip mining and open-pit techniques, however, El Salvador went a step further, prohibiting all types of underground and above-ground metal mining activity. Rally supporters continuously backed the new legislation to preserve water reservoirs and reduce social tensions in the country carrying signs with the slogan: ‘No to Mining! Yes to Life!’ The focus of this was to improve the well-being of Salvadorans, whilst they argued about the risk of metal mining to the environment.
Metal mining activity has had adverse effects on the environment with it releasing toxic waste into rivers and limiting water supply, whilst also damaging crops. According to President Salvador Sanchez Ceren, overall water levels have already reached a critical state with rainfall during the wet season becoming less regular over the last few years. With access to clean water becoming extremely limited, it has driven communities and activist groups in the capital, San Salvador, to come together and protest.
A periodic weather event, El Niño, has largely contributed to the crisis, disturbing weather patterns and driving up global temperatures. As one of the hard-hit countries, it has devastated the agricultural industry, a huge sector which the country dedicates most of its land to. In 2016, clean water was so scarce that the nation declared a drought emergency for the first time ever, claiming that both climate change and El Niño are to blame for the crisis.
El Salvador’s water resources are already heavily polluted with around 90% of the surface water bodies contaminated. Guillermo Mata, president of the Assembly’s Environment and Climate Change Commission claimed that the nation is suffering as a densely-populated country with only 3% of forests remaining, whilst the use of toxic chemicals in mining contaminates air and soil and harms ecosystems.
El Salvador made a very bold statement this week with a nation so small taking such a huge step towards prioritising the well-being of citizens. This is a great example for other countries around the world to focus on their people whilst preserving the environment. Although it is not expected that many larger countries will follow suit in banning all metal mining, hopefully measures will be introduced to make mining more environmentally sustainable.