El Salvador has become the first country in the world to ban gold mining, thanks in part to opposition from Salvadorean civil society.
The key role played by Salvadorean civil society in achieving the ban has been recognised by an international human rights award for the El Salvador National Committee Against Metal Mining, with which Progressio works closely. An umbrella organisation of Salvadorean human rights groups, the Committee set out to raise awareness and carry out advocacy work in order to make the Salvadorean government take action against the problem.
Nicoletta Marinelli, a Progressio development worker who has coordinated the Committee’s communications work, explains: “Metal mining contaminates surface and subterranean waters with cyanide and heavy metals. In Central America it has caused health problems which have mainly affected women and children.
“It has also displaced and divided communities, generating new outbreaks of conflict in a region which is still recovering from the wounds inflicted during decades of civil war.”
The amount of water available to communities close to the mines has also been affected. A mine consumes large quantities of water, putting the ecosystem at risk and competing with the local population for water resources.
This ban will have a positive effect on rural communities and on the environment, says Nicoletta: “Mining threatens traditional forms of production such as agriculture, livestock farming and fishing. In addition, when agricultural production takes place close to a mine, plants absorb the cyanide and the heavy metals and this is dangerous to human health.”
The Committee’s work has been recognised at international level by the US-based Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), which has awarded the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award to the Committee “for its courage in embarking on this struggle, despite the odds against them, in order to make El Salvador the first country in the world to ban gold mining.”
“This award recognises work undertaken by many people over many years,” says Nicoletta. “It also recognises that prosperity is not based solely on economic growth: rather it reconciles social wellbeing with the environment and economic prosperity.”So what’s the next challenge? To continue to advocate for a law which bans mining, and to regionalise the fight against mining. “I think that the award has motivated the committee members to fight beyond the Salvadorean borders and to support other Central American associations,” concludes Nicoletta.