Problems with water protection in the Guatemalan mining law

After the mini-scandal (at least for now) at MARN this morning, I noticed a group that was quoted in the article that sounded critical for the right reasons. Madre Selva is an environmental activist group funded by Oxfam and the EU that has done some very good policy work and community organizing.

There criticism of the mining law, although from 2008, was particularly enlightening on the issue of environmental impact studies and water and I thought I’d highlight some of their suggestions.

Environmental impact studies (EIA)

The studies need to take better baseline data, not only of the environment (i.e. water and soil quality) but also the health and economic well-being of the community. This needs to be a part of the EIA in order to allow for proper monitoring and on-going evaluation of the projects.

The studies also need to propose a plan for conditions of the land and surrounding communities after the closing of the mine. There needs to be some requirements for the companies in how they leave the mines once they are no longer in use.

And to me, the most important suggestion related to the EIAs: you need independent consultants. (see earlier post on scandal).

Another suggestion: it is important that there is some sort of incentive to make sure the EIAs are done correctly. Madre Selva proposes that MARN workers should be held legally responsible for each approval for a determined amount of time. This suggestion is difficult because MARN workers cannot be held responsible for the actions of these companies. However, some sort of oversight is needed.

Lastly, there needs to be more transparency. They suggest that before the final approval of any EIA, they should be released to the public, allowing the communities affected to comment before the licenses are granted. This idea seems good for all sides. The communities obviously should be allowed input on the studies. But it also allows MARN to confront some of the issues that might come up in the future before they have become problems. And it might even be a way that the companies can avoid completely alienating the communities from the beginning.

Water issues

The only clause in the mining law about water basically says that the companies should use the water reasonably and responsibly. They do not have to pay the municipality for water. They are just supposed to be responsible with it. This oftentimes puts them into direct competition with the communities.

The other problem is more difficult to resolve. Although there are laws for the disposal of waste water and contamination, there is simply not enough resources to monitor the situation. There is something like five people, two trucks, and one full set of instruments to fully test the water. And that is for the entire country. And they are not just responsible for monitoring mining, or industry. They are supposed to monitor everything from the municipal water systems to every industry and every company. Last year they were able to do something like 300 water tests, or less than 0.1% according to the people here.

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