Environmentalists and scientists agree, deforestation and land management are the biggest concerns for the Environmental Ministry ( MARN) this year. The country is losing around 2% of its forest cover each year. The National Forest Institute (INAB) manages to offset the deforestation by planting around 11,000 hectares of trees each year, but that still means Guatemala is losing 1% of its remaining forest each year. A lot of the deforestation (about 37%) occurs in protected areas that are extremely vital to the country’s aquifers and watersheds.
As trees are cut down in the protected watersheds, water becomes scarcer in these areas. And although Guatemala is considered a country with abundant water resources, in 2011, 10% of the municipalities in the country lacked water for periods of up to ten days at a time. Thirteen municipalities experienced severe water shortages of more than 15 days.
Communities understand the link between deforestation and have asked the government to take more action in stopping it. In Zacapa, residents complain that the level of the tributaries could become too low for their daily needs and they are blaming it on deforestation. Authorities granted permission to cut down some 27 hectares of trees on private land. And while they claim that the license granted won’t cause problems because it doesn’t allow for the cutting of trees near water sources, residents say they’ve already seen their water levels drop.
One thing MARN can do is assert more control over protected areas. 34% of Guatemala is protected, but most of that land is privately held. In theory, anything done on this land requires the approval of MARN. They do an environmental impact study to determine the effects. In reality, there is virtually no oversight and as for the impact studies, let’s just say, they weren’t seen as the most objective measures under the previous minister.