New York Times
March 29th, 2017
By GENE PALUMBO and ELISABETH MALKIN
Lawmakers in El Salvador voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to prohibit all mining for gold and other metals, making the country the first in the world to impose a nationwide ban on metal mining, environmental activists said.
Declaring that El Salvador’s fragile environment could not sustain metal mining operations, legislators across the political spectrum approved the ban, which had broad support, particularly from the influential Roman Catholic Church.
Supporters said the law was needed to protect the country’s dwindling supply of clean water.
“Today in El Salvador, water won out over gold,” Johnny Wright Sol, a legislator from the center-right Arena party, wrote on Twitter.
The vote in the Legislative Assembly turned a decade-old moratorium on mining into law, halting efforts by international companies to tap the gold belt running across the northern provinces of El Salvador.
“It’s a wonderful moment for the first country to evaluate the costs and benefits of metallic mining and say no,” said Andrés McKinley, a mining and water specialist at Central American University in San Salvador.
The law does not apply to quarrying or the mining of coal, salt and other nonmetallic substances.
Other countries are unlikely to follow El Salvador’s national ban, mining watchdog groups say. But the law sets a powerful example to communities that oppose large mining projects and bolsters the case against mining in environmentally delicate areas.
“Globally there is a growing questioning of mining as an economic development engine,” said Keith Slack, the global program director for extractive industries at Oxfam America in Washington. “I think it definitely strengthens the voice of communities that are raising the questions.”
Around the world, scattered bans on the use of cyanide to extract gold from low-grade ore, commonly used in open-pit mining, are in place, including in Montana, according to Jamie Kneen, a spokesman for Mining Watch Canada. Costa Rica has a national ban on open-pit gold mining.
Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Turkey and several Argentine provinces have cyanide bans. In the Philippines, the government ordered more than half the mines to shut down or be suspended.
The risks of mining in El Salvador, however, are especially acute. The tiny country is densely populated and the second-most environmentally degraded country in the Americas, after Haiti, according to the United Nations.
“Mining is an industry whose primary and first victim is water,” said Mr. McKinley, who added that El Salvador faced a significant scarcity. “We are talking about an issue that is a life-or-death issue for the country.”
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