Mapping to save Guatemala – World Environment Day (New Internationalist)

Nestled between Mexico and Honduras, Guatemala is a country of extreme biodiversity. With deserts to the east, mountains to the west, jungles in the north and volcanoes occupying any space in between, this Central American nation is renowned for its vast ecosystems. However, industrial exploitation is threatening to destroy the country’s environment.

The statistics make shocking reading

Already 95 per cent of the country’s water supply is polluted and 70 per cent of the mangrove forests have disappeared due to the actions of private companies. Last year, President Álvaro Colom controversially granted an extension to Anglo-French oil giant Perenco, allowing it to continue pumping oil out of Laguna del Tigre – one of Guatemala’s most important protected areas.

Frustrated by the lack of environmental control and awareness, one Guatemalan organization, the School of Ecological Thought (SAVIA), has created a pollution map to outline the impact of environmental issues upon each area of the country.

The map has been presented in several parts of the country over the past few months with the aim of educating the country’s rural population and providing them with information about environmentally damaging projects that the government has commissioned.

Giving Information Directly to the People that Need It

One of the map’s creators, Magalí Rey Rosa, says she is determined to give information directly to the agricultural and indigenous communities. These are the people who are at greatest risk from mineral mining and petroleum exploitation, and the ones who receive the least information.

‘The environment is not a big issue for the majority of people here,’ says Magalí. ‘When a mining company starts working, nobody supervises the quantity of minerals they remove or the effect this has on the surrounding area.’

The map pinpoints six environmental concerns and uses government information to evaluate the ecological and social costs of industrial projects, whilst taking into consideration the benefits to the local community.

“We want the people to have access to the facts”

‘We’re not doing this for scientific or intellectual purposes, but for the people,’ states Magalí. ‘We’re not opposed to development but we want the population to have access to the facts, so that they can be better informed about what is going on around them.’

The map has provoked a strong interest: SAVIA has been inundated with people wanting to find out more about projects in their local areas.

This year the UN named India as the global host of World Environment Day, praising the country for taking steps to transform its growing economy into a green economy. It may be a while before Guatemala achieves the same accolade, but raising awareness is the way to start…

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