SAN SALVADOR – The smallest country in Central America – El Salvador – has approved a law prohibiting all metal mining in an attempt to protect the environment and natural resources, becoming the first country in the world to do so.
The new law, supported by 70 lawmakers, bans all exploration, extraction, and processing of for gold and other metals both in open pits and mines, according to Mining.com.
“It’s a historic day in El Salvador. It’s a historic day for the whole world,” Environment Minister Lina Pohl told reporters after a vote in Congress.
The use of cyanide and mercury for mining is also banned; however, it does not apply to quarrying or the mining of coal, salt and other non-metallic resources.
The ruling, aimed at protecting the nation’s allegedly quite fragile environment, comes after a long-dragged dispute over a proposed gold mine by Pac Rim Cayman, a unit of Canadian-Australian company OceanaGold Corp. (TSX:OGC).
The decision is being hailed by environmentalists and human rights groups.
“Mining is not an appropriate way to reduce poverty and inequality in this country,” Ivan Morales, country director for the charity Oxfam in El Salvador said in a statement. “It would only exacerbate the social conflict and level of water contamination we already have.”
According to the United Nations, El Salvador is one of the most densely populated countries and the second-most environmentally degraded in America, after Haiti, which makes it especially sensitive to the potential impact of large mining projects.
Ninety percent of the country’s surface water is polluted mostly due to the mining industry.