What is the impact of extractive industries such as mining in Honduras? And how are people in poor rural communities responding? With the support of the US Jesuit Conference and the Jesuit Central-Southern Province, Saint Louis University and ERIC, the Reflection, Research and Communication Center in Honduras, partnered to investigate the social and environmental risks posed by mining activities in three rural communities in Honduras. Mining is linked to water contamination, deforestation and environmental degradation, as well as conflict and violence due to land grabbing, the fracturing of the social fabric of communities, and human right violations in Honduras. According to survey results, community residents experience high levels of water and food insecurity and limited access to education and health services. Also, they are very concerned about the environmental damage caused by mining, especially to water, and indicate that they do not want mining activities in their communities. The investigation results will be used to raise awareness nationally and globally about the negative impact of extractive industries in Honduras, the responsibility of public and private decision makers, and the need to promote alternative uses of natural resources that focus on the basic needs and human security of local communities.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Americas. The Honduran government is aggressively promoting the expansion of extractive industries, especially mining, to foster development, create jobs, and increase public revenue. However, there is growing concern about the impact of mining, particularly on land and water, and on the social fabric of local communities. In response to these concerns U.S. and Honduran Jesuit organizations came together to design and implement the “Mining, Development and Justice: A Community-Based Initiative for Education and Advocacy.” The purpose of this project is to generate reliable evidence on the effects of mining on vulnerable communities to inform and support organizational, educational, and advocacy activities in Honduras, the U.S. and Canada.
The research team used a participatory community-based approach and the conceptual framework of “human security” in project design and implementation. The investigation included archival research on the social, economic and political factors associated with mining in Honduras, household surveys, interviews and focus groups, and an evaluation of drinking water and water sources. Three target areas were selected in northern Honduras due to their degree of vulnerability (they are poor, rural, and with limited access to educational and health services), and the experience they have had with mining activities. After the Saint Louis University Institutional Review Board approved the project protocol, the SLU-ERIC research team administered 206 surveys and tested 136 drinking water samples for total coliforms, an indicator of water contamination by human and animal waste. Survey administration and water testing were completed in August 2015.
A total of 1069 persons live in the 206 households visited. Most families have 3-5 (66.5%) and 6-10 members living at home. Most people identified themselves as ladino or mestizo (47.6%) or indigenous (23.8%). Only 16.5% of fathers and 23.8% of mothers finished elementary school. Very few went to high school but did not complete it. Community residents work mostly in agriculture (56.8%). Two target areas do not have electricity. Regarding socio-economic stratification, most households are in the lowest 4th and 5th quintile (92.8%), further evidence of the prevailing poverty in the target areas.
Food insecurity is experienced by most of the population. Up to 78.6% of respondents said that the food they had in the last year was not sufficient and had no money to buy more. In regards to water security, the results are very concerning: two communities have water systems with pipes serving homes, but the other community depends on precarious plastic tubes connected to distant water sources. Drinking water is not purified. This is reflected in the results of total coliform testing: Of 136 drinking water samples tested, 128 tested positive for coliforms (94%). Water is a major concern. The majority of respondents (71.4%) said that they are worried about their water. Responses to the questions “Do you have health insurance” and “What do you do when you have a health problem” showed how serious is the lack of health services. Of all father and mother respondents, only one had health insurance. There are no local health care centers in two target areas, so most people have to travel long distances to get care. Lastly, people were asked about their beliefs and opinions on mining. The majority of respondents said that they don’t believe that mining will benefit their communities (69%), do not agree with mining companies coming to their communities (74.8%), believe that mining causes environmental problems (89.8%), and don’t believe that mining will bring development to their communities.
This investigation demonstrates the importance of international university-community partnerships for research for social change consistent with Jesuit values of social justice. The research results indicate that the lives of the people in the project target areas are marked by high levels of food, water, land, and health insecurity. Also, these communities have experienced social conflict and violence brought by mining. Pushing mining in communities as vulnerable as this is likely to exacerbate the insecurity they live with. Even though the government and mining companies promote mining as a catalyst for local development, most survey respondents said that they do not want mining projects in their land.
By Fernando Serrano, Ph.D., Saint Louis University; Pedro Landa, ERIC Honduras Orlando Posadas, ERIC Honduras Mercy Ayala, ERIC Honduras; Gustavo Cardoza, ERIC Honduras