The newly appointed head of the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), Herman Rosa Chávez recently granted an interview to the online news site El Faro. Chávez is an electrical engineer who has been involved with environmental issues for several years. In this interview, the minister shares some of his main priorities for the next few years.
In explaining some of the responsibilities of MARN, Chávez stressed that society should be fully informed about environmental issues so that they will be able to participate in the decision-making process. In the last several years, civil society organizations have demonstrated against mineral exploitation and hydroelectric dams, though often they have had little choice on whether the development takes place.
Chávez emphasized that one of the ways the public may be directly involved in the national decision process is to express opinions when a developer is completing the environmental impact assessment (EIA). The Law on the Environment requires that MARN give the public the opportunity to review and comment on an EIA prior to its approval, and Chávez seems poised to encourage and facilitate the public’s involvement. Chávez also stated that EIAs ought to be completed by professionals who do not have an interest in the proposed project to ensure an unbiased assessment. He also suggested the the creation of a new government institution that would complete EIAs.
Earlier this month, El Diario de Hoy reported that SalvaNATURA (an environmental nonprofit organization) and MARN identified 18 key zones of biodiversity in El Salvador. On discussing the official naturally protected areas (ANP) in the country, Chávez acknowledged that it is not realistic to pay attention to these areas while ignoring issues in urban areas and other parts of the country. He stressed their importance while assuring that these would not be his sole emphasis during his term as minister.
Chávez said that one important priority for him would be improving the quality of the Río Acelhuate. According to an official study done by MARN in February 2004, the Río Acelhuate that flows through the capital city of San Salvador is considered the most contaminated river in El Salvador. Currently, 90% of El Salvador’s surface water sources are contaminated, and renal failure and gastro-intestinal diseaes linked to contaminated water are among the most common health problems in the country.
Voices on the Border is organizing an environmental delegation for the week of August 1-9, 2009. This trip is open to anyone who is interested in learning about how government, private interests, technology, and civil society can interact to protect and sustain El Salvador’s natural resources. Applications and a deposit are due on July 10. Please see the announcement on the Voices website for more details.