Cleaning Up Guatemala’s Motagua River

Solid waste litters the banks of the Motagua River.

I traveled to Guatemala this month to support ELAW partners and government officials working to clean up the Motagua River. The river is Guatemala’s largest, flowing from the Guatemala highlands to the Caribbean Sea.

Poor waste management poses serious environmental and public health problems in the Motagua River Basin, and threatens the Mesoamerican Reef.  Household waste, industrial waste, and untreated sewage are all dumped into the Motagua.

“Three municipalities in Izabal, near the mouth of the river — Los Amates, Puerto Barrios, and Morales — are the most severely impacted,” says ELAW partner Jeanette de Noack, Executive Director of the Alianza de Derecho Ambiental y Agua (ADA2, Environmental Law and Water Alliance).

“The people suffer and so does biodiversity in the Punta de Manabique Wildlife Reserve on the Caribbean Coast. Our work is part of a ridge to reef conservation effort.”

ADA2 reports that roughly half of the more than 50,000 metric tons of domestic waste generated every year by the three municipalities is biodegradable and 15% has the potential to be recycled. The research study was a joint effort by ADA2, ELAW, and students at the Ak’ Tenamit Association.

ELAW and ADA2 are helping the three municipalities make good on pledges to put effective solid waste management systems in place. We helped launch an association to coordinate clean-up efforts and provided information about best practices for solid waste management, suited to the unique conditions of the Motagua River Basin.

We will keep you informed of our progress finding better ways to manage waste in Guatemala, and protect communities and the Motagua River.

Many thanks to the Summit Foundation for supporting this work!

Mercedes Lu, PhD
ELAW Staff Scientist

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