Opinion – Latinoamérica21: Guatemalan garbage affects the Honduran coast

Opinion – Latinoamérica21: Guatemalan garbage affects the Honduran coast

Masks, gloves, gauze, packaging and all sorts of rubbish arrives, especially in the rainy season, in coastal and tourist areas of Honduras, dragged by the Motagua River from the Guatemalan capital, after having flowed into the Caribbean Sea.

This foreign waste, which accumulates on Honduran beaches and on the seabed, affects the environment and tourism, one of the main activities that support local communities, such as those in the municipality of Omoa.

For more than a decade, residents of these areas have been hand-cleaning their beaches to try to prevent images of their beaches from turning into garbage dumps, but binational measures are needed to eradicate massive litter from abroad.

The Motagua River, with a length of 486 kilometers and a basin that occupies more than 12,000 square kilometers, is born in the Guatemalan highlands, and one of its tributaries, the Las Vacas River, crosses the huge dump located in the north of the Guatemalan capital.

In addition, the inhabitants of Guatemalan municipalities bordering the Montagua River dump their garbage in the river without any consequences. However, successive Honduran governments have limited themselves to protesting, but without taking concrete measures.

Recently, the mayor of the Honduran municipality of Omoa, Ricardo Alvarado, once again highlighted the serious contamination of the Motagua River and the beaches in his municipality, which has driven away tourism, the main source of income for the population of Omoa. Although the Honduran government talks about a crisis, the reality is that the inhabitants of Omoa are suffering an environmental catastrophe.

This problem, which has been going on for more than a decade, has been the subject of conversations between the governments of both countries. But the definitive and ecological solution, which is to create sanitary landfills in Guatemalan municipalities that comply with international standards, has not been taken into account by successive governments of this country, nor has it been demanded by their Honduran counterparts.

The “solution” proposed by the Honduran government in recent years was to install biosecurity fences on the Las Vacas and Motagua rivers, to which Guatemala agreed. However, recently the amount of waste dumped into the river was such that the fences gave way and allowed a large amount of garbage to pass, which is reaching the beaches of Omoa, already seriously contaminated.

Although Omoa community authorities and private companies work to keep the beaches clean, this is not enough. The recent and abundant rains of “winter”, as the rainy season is called in this region, have exacerbated the problem, as the fences placed by the organization The Ocean Cleanup were overcome by increasing the course of the rivers. In addition, the planned fencing system was not completed, which further complicated the situation.

Another aggravating factor in this environmental problem is that in the Guatemalan dump, located in the north of Guatemala City, which is crossed by the Las Vacas River and has an extension of approximately eight football fields, the garbage is not separated. Plastic is usually the main pollutant, but with the Covid-19 pandemic, much of what flows into rivers is contaminated hospital waste.

Omoa is suffering the effects of a phenomenon that should long ago have been the subject of urgent treatment for the national government. However, while this municipality languishes and suffers an increasing displacement of its population, and even of emigration abroad, so far there does not seem to be a Honduran State Department concerned enough with the problem to start negotiations with its Guatemalan counterparts in order to find definitive solutions.

There is also no indication of any intention to promote an international campaign that raises awareness of the problem to even obtain funding to convert Guatemalan garbage dumps into sanitary landfills.

Expecting Honduran officials and former officials to demand solutions from the neighboring country when they left their own country’s landfill projects, such as those in the capital and San Pedro Sula, unfinished is not very encouraging.

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