SEATTLE — On March 29, 2017, El Salvador made headlines for its historic ban on the mining of metal in the country. After years of legal battles, the small nation has become the first country in the world to ban this type of mining. The mining of metals has particularly become a dangerous environmental act in recent years. After years of a water crisis in the nation heavily affected by mining, El Salvador bans mining for metal.
Currently, one in four people in El Salvador has access to water. Lack of water sources is detrimental to masses of people, especially during the dry season. Ninety percent of the nation’s surface water is polluted, due largely to the different types of mining.
Mining allows for chemicals like cyanide and mercury to enter the water during processing, which then creates a toxic pollution for any surrounding soil and ground water. This heightened pollution became one of the biggest factors which led to El Salvador’s ban. As reported by the New York Times, “the tiny country is densely populated and the second most environmentally degraded country in the Americas, after Haiti, according to the United Nations.”
Mining in countries in Latin America is a consistent problem. Mining opens up the availability of jobs while taking away sources of water for country’s who face tragic economic woes. Over 50 percent of the population in El Salvador is impoverished. This was a major deciding factor for El Salvador banning mining for metal.
El Salvador is a very small country that is vastly rich with gold. An estimated 400 tons of gold lays under the ground of the nation El Salvador, which at current rates could be worth more than $14 billion. This type of richness within the country is the reason why mining for gold is so prevalent in El Salvador.
Over the past few years, the El Salvadorian government has been battling to protect the country’s water from multinational corporations with interests in gold. In 2009, Canadian mining company Oceana Gold (also known as Pacific Rim), filed a complaint after the El Salvadorian government did not allow the company to begin mining in the country.
In 2016, after the Canadian company was sold in a merger with another Australian mining company, Oceana Gold filed a lawsuit against El Salvador for $301 million, because El Salvador had to reject its application to mine for metal. Oceana Gold stated that El Salvador was violating the free trade law under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which allows companies from all over the world to start and begin businesses in other countries from all over the world.
El Salvador eventually won the case at the World Bank, after having stated that Oceana Gold did not submit the proper material that showed the company would meet the proper environmental requirements when in El Salvador. The court also paid back El Salvador $8 million for legal fees.
As El Salvador bans mining for metal, support for the measure was 77 percent across the nation. The ban makes mining for metal punishable by law. Additionally, the ban was heavily backed by interest groups and also the Catholic Church, which has a major influence in El Salvador. Lawmakers approved the bill with cross-party agreement, with a nearly unanimous vote with 70 out of 84 lawmakers agreeing with the ban. With this ban in place, the water crisis in El Salvador seems as though it could begin a positive transition in the near future.
– Maria Rodriguez