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Cigarettes, plastic bags, food containers, caps, plastic bottles, and more litter the beaches in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. In a new report, ELAW’s science team found that inadequate management of waste at the local level poses a regional challenge.

“Waste management in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras is not just an aesthetic issue, it is a serious public health and environmental problem, says ELAW Staff Scientist Meche Lu. “Data from Belize indicate that approximately half of the waste there is not collected. Much of it is burned or disposed in waterways.”castaway (Print)

Elito Arceo, Chairman of Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD) in Belize, concurs: “The amount of garbage that ends up on our beaches and reef is unbelievable. This is not what our tourists come here to see.”

ELAW’s science team recently published: “Ocean Waste in the Gulf of Honduras: Where it goes and what to do about it.” The report was a collaborative effort with organizations in the region working to turn the tide on ocean waste.

“This report shows that first of all we need to take responsibility for our own garbage,” says Arceo. “It’s time for all of us to change our habits. Education is the going to be the key.”

ELAW is helping local partners in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras hold community workshops to call attention to this problem and protect the Mesoamerican reef from further destruction.

Check out the full report here.

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

Mangroves in Belize

The Mesoamerican Reef is shared by Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.  ELAW  is working with grassroots advocates in each of these countries on a coordinated effort to protect marine resources.

“Our partners in Belize and Guatemala are on the verge of permanently protecting hundreds of square miles of important marine habitat,” says Lori Maddox, ELAW Associate Director. “Their good work is creating a linked chain of diverse, biological storehouses that will help revitalize a dying fishery and sustain the flow of tourist dollars to the entire region.”

Lori and ELAW Staff Scientist Heidi Weiskel traveled to Belize this month for a workshop with partners to advance this initiative.

Read about their visit in Ambergris Today, a Belize newspaper.

Maggie Keenan
ELAW Communications Director

It is “that” time of the year again around the ELAW office.  The buzz is starting to build. Next week is the University of Oregon School of Law’s Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC). The conference is organized by students at the school, not ELAW, though sometimes we get credit for it.  This year we will celebrate the 30th Anniversary of conference and the 100th Anniversary of David Brower’s birth. We will also remember the tragic loss of the beloved Svitlana Kravchenko.

ELAW Fellow Rolès Théard

Yesterday we welcomed our first international visitor for this year’s PIELC – Rolès Théard, a founder of l’Association Haitienne de Droit de l’Environnement (AHDEN).   Rolès will join partners from Russia and Mongolia to talk about the impacts of mining on a panel during the PIELC.  We’ll also be welcoming lawyers from Guatemala, Madagascar, and Indonesia over the week ahead.  I am thrilled to be working with Rolès this week and looking forward to welcoming the rest of the gang next week.  If you’re going to be in town for the PIELC – please look for ELAW’s table in the busy halls of the law school!

We hope to see you in Eugene!

Jen Gleason
Staff Attorney

ELAW colleagues at the Environmental Law Workshop

I was fortunate to travel last month to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, for the first annual Festival of the Sea, held in conjunction with a Trinational Fisheries Forum and Workshops on Environmental Law and the Human Right to Water.  The Fisheries Forum was poignant, with roughly 20 fishers from Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras doing the difficult work of discussing limits on their fishing grounds, in order to restore the fishery.  Our Guatemalan partners are working with Guatemalan fishing communities in the Gulf and the Ministry of Natural Resources to help create  “recuperation zones” that would be managed jointly by the agency and the fishers in Guatemala’s waters.

The Gulf of Honduras is a complicated web of Guatemalan, Belizean, Honduran, Garifuna, and Maya culture.  Negotiations among fishers WITHIN countries is complex, and when we are trying to reach across the many layers of jurisdictions and ethnic culture present in the Gulf, the complexities are far greater.

Alongside the work, we celebrated the food, culture, and livelihood of fishing communities in the region at the Festival of the Sea on the waterfront.   Fisheries are vital to sustaining coastal communities worldwide, and the roughly 500km of coastline in the Gulf of Honduras is home to nearly one million people.  This relatively small area holds tremendous biodiversity, but both species and local economies are in decline.

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

World Water Day was established at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. It is a day to focus international attention on the factors contributing the world’s safe drinking water and sanitation crisis.

This year’s theme, Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge is highlighting the staggering increase in urbanization among the worlds poorest population, and how lacking city infrastructure is not meeting the clean water needs of communities.

According to the United Nations:

“Today, one in two people on the planet live in a city. 93% of the urbanization occurs in poor or developing countries, and nearly 40% of the world’s urban expansion is growing slums. The central problem is therefore the management of urban water and waste. Piped water coverage is declining in many settings, and the poor people get the worst services, yet paying the highest water prices.”

According to the Coalition for World Water Day“one out of every eight people lacks safe drinking water and two out of every five people lack adequate sanitation.” We all know water is fundamental to life and that access to clean water is a basic human right. And while some contributing factors are certainly related to poor sanitation, we must remember that there are other reasons that people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water.

Gold mine tailings disposal

Over the years, ELAW has worked with partners around the world to perform water quality tests that provide communities with the information they need to seek justice and win access to clean water.

Last year, ELAW worked with partners in Panama to test water quality downstream from a large gold mine.  ELAW partners in Belize are fighting to protect the Macal River, a source of drinking water, from the effects of a large dam. With surface water quality analysis, ELAW partners in Guatemala, are helping community members understand the science behind community health problems associated with nearby mining activity. ELAW worked with partners in the Philippines in 2008 to close illegal connections to a storm drain that were allowing raw sewage into drinking water. As in other parts of the Amazon, multinational oil companies have been drilling for oil and dumping by-products into Peru’s Corrientes River since the 1970s. ELAW helped perform the first independent water quality analysis, and in 2006, the largest offending oil company signed an agreement to stop dumping in the river and invest in cleanup.

Achuar march for clean water (PHOTO: FECONACO, Racimos de Ungurahui)

These are just a few examples of how numerous industries and multinationals are polluting and privatizing our earth’s freshwater supplies, and many times, in poor communities where regulations are weak and access to clean water is already at risk.

ELAW joins communities around the world calling for swift access to clean water for everyone. We will continue to support the work of local advocates who are fighting for the right to clean air and water for everyone.

Lauren Ice
Office Manager

I’m sitting here surrounded by Central America’s leading environmental and human rights lawyers.  I’m lucky because I find myself in groups like this quite regularly.  Every time I travel for work, I have trouble leaving home – saying good-bye yet again to my husband and three year old daughter.

But the minute my plane lands, I’m transported.  Not only do I get to see old friends and meet new ones – sharing family photos and stories about our lives since we last met – but I get to hear about their current work and renew my energy to do this work that I love so much.

I get to sit at a table of people from different countries who are fighting the same battle against different mining companies.  I get to sit with people strategizing about better ways to protect the rights of their local communities.  And I get to work with these amazing people who put their lives at risk on a regular basis to pursue justice.

On the first day of this meeting we spent some time reflecting on justice.  What is justice?  How do we get justice?  Do our laws make space for us to pursue justice for the community displaced for a tourism development on the coast?  Is a court the best place to find justice for the community whose water source is polluted by a mining company?

We have two more days to reflect on this as we talk about the region’s environmental problems and how we can all work together to represent the communities impacted by mining, oil development and dams – and how we can work together to address climate change and help design a better way forward.

by Staff Attorney Jen Gleason

Yuri after the attack on his life

Yuri after the attack on his life

Yuri Melini is a fighter. In Guatemala, he has worked for years shining a bright light on corruption. Government officials, drug traffickers, corporations – none are safe from Yuri’s relentless energy working to protect the rights of Guatemalan people from those who would steal or despoil their land or pollute the water children drink every day.

I have worked with Yuri and his colleagues at the Center for Environmental, Legal and Social Action (CALAS) since 2003. I’ve seen him name names; I’ve read the stories that his work has inspired; I’ve watched with horror as he has had to suffer the physical consequences of the attack on his life.

Yuri with Martin Sheen

Yuri with Martin Sheen

This week, Yuri was honored with the Annual Front Line Award, from the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. The award is given to a human rights defender who has made an outstanding contribution to defending the rights of others at great personal risk to themselves.

Yuri has the led the campaign to bring the assassins of environmental advocates Erwin Ochoa López and Julio Armando Vásquez (government workers for CONAP – Commission on Protected Areas) to justice. They were murdered in the line of duty – trying to defend protected areas on Guatemala’s Atlantic Coast. The week before Yuri was shot, he published an article in the Central American Diary calling attention to their deaths among the 128 attacks on environmental activists in Guatemala in recent years.

After the year that he has endured, I can’t think of anybody who deserves the Front Line Annual Award more. Congratulations Yuri!

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

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