2012 Guatemalan Environmental Report

The 2012 Guatemalan Environmental Report came out last month published by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources. The report runs through the current conditions of the water, soil, fauna, air and finally, the actions that the ministry is taking to improve them.

Guatemala’s has an abundant supply of water. But as the report notes, economic and population growth hasn’t been accompanied by much regulation or care for water. The report blames the lack of widespread uses of sewer systems, deforestation, and poor soil and watershed management. Agriculture and livestock account for 60% of the water usage, 21% is used by manufacturing, and 14% is used by electricity, gas, and water provision. With oil and gas exploration set to increase, that last figure should go up significantly.

The report comments on the numerous civil society and governmental groups that play a role in protecting clean water. There are mancomunidades—basically a legal committee made up of multiple municipalities united for a common cause, in this case water protection—watershed committees, micro watershed committees (whom I work with), and then different sub groups within the Ministry of Environment (MARN), Agricultural Ministry (MAGA), Mining Ministry (MEM), Forestry Institute (INAB), and the Health Ministry (MPSAS). That does not even count the numerous indigenous communities that, according to MARN employees, are doing more to protect their water than any formal organization. Guatemala lacks an overall water authority. While MARN is in charge of it for the most part, most countries in Latin America have a water authority that is separate and autonomous from a ministry. This hugely disperse method of organization is most likely holding back any coordinated effort on water and sanitation in the country.

One positive point noted is that while historically, water management has stuck to political boundaries, that has started to change. In the past this meant that although the area of Lake Amatitlan made efforts and enforced laws to clean up the lake, while the Villalobos river which flows from the outskirts of Guatemala City was being contaminated by industrial, human, and animal waste, it didn’t really matter. There are now authorities in charge of entire watersheds.

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