Balancing act: Mining, economic growth and public health in Honduras
Saint Louis University faculty member Fernando Serrano, Ph.D., was recently awarded a 2014 Jesuit Conference Social Analysis and Action Research Grant to analyze how mining activities are impacting the health and well-being of communities in Honduras.
Serrano, an assistant professor in SLU's Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the College for Public Health & Social Justice, is involved with Governance of Natural Resource and Minerals, a global Jesuit network for education and advocacy on mining and natural resource issues. Also, last September, Serrano was invited to join a U.S. Jesuit delegation to visit communities affected by mining, human rights abuses and violence in northern Honduras. The grant will fuel a community-based initiative for education and advocacy to protect local residents and resources in Honduras.
The most important resource at stake is water.
"Numerous studies indicate that the most significant impact of mining activities is on water quality and availability," Serrano said. "Mining operations consume large amounts of water, greatly reducing water available to the surrounding community, and drainage from these operations can contaminate local water supplies for decades, exposing people to a variety of toxic substances."
While Serrano recognizes that the mining industry creates local job opportunities and economic growth, previous case studies and reports from all over the world describe social, cultural, political, and legal problems caused by mining and the negative consequences for human rights and security especially among vulnerable populations.
Vulnerable populations commonly experience double jeopardy, in that they experience the worst effects of social and economic disparities and are also exposed to higher environmental and socio economic risks and insecurity. These populations tend to suffer more due to their lack of access to resources and the economic, political, and legal disenfranchisement they experience. To bridge this gap, part of Serrano's research will specifically explore how mining activities affect women, children, individuals living in poverty and indigenous groups.
During the next year, the project team will travel to three areas in Honduras where new mining activities are starting: Valle del Aguán in the Colón Department, Arizona in the Atlántida Department and the Tolupán indigenous area of Locomapa in the Yoro Department.
"These communities need to know if their surface and ground water will be safe for human consumption and farming and if they have enough water to maintain a healthy environment as mining activities increase," Serrano said. An important research goal for this project is to obtain baseline data of water quality and access in each community in order to measure and project how quality and access change as mining operations grow.
In partnership with Honduran Jesuit organizations, Serrano and his team will share the evidence gathered during this project with local residents, business leaders, and policymakers through a variety of workshops, meetings, and print publications including a policy brief for U.S. stakeholders.
"Solid evidence helps us understand inequalities and is a fundamental component of any organizational, educational and advocacy effort aimed at social change," Serrano said. "This project has the potential to contribute significantly to the historical partnership between the Missouri and Honduras Jesuits by demonstrating how science integrates with education and advocacy to serve communities in need."
In addition, this project will directly support the mission of the College for Public Health & Social Justice by improving health and well-being internationally and will serve the overall University mission in the pursuit of truth for the service of humanity.
SLU's College for Public Health & Social Justice is the only academic unit of its kind among the nearly 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States. With a focus on finding innovative and collaborative solutions for complex global health problems, the college offers nationally recognized programs in global public health, social work, health management and health policy, epidemiology, biostatistics, environmental and occupational health, behavioral science and health education, emergency management, biosecurity and disaster preparedness, and criminology and criminal justice.