Pick a Region
:. . Central America:. . Maya Biosphere Reserve

Poverty and Population Growth
Although there is evidence that deforestation in the Reserve has begun to slow, threats to the Reserve still remain. One of the primary problems is poverty. It is estimated that more than four out of five Guatemalans live in poverty. Compounding this problem is the unequal way in which land is distributed. Of those Guatemalans who own land, 2% control approximately 65% of the land. This means that 35% of the land is shared by 98% of the other landowners1. These statistics do not even include the significant portion of the population that does not own land. The combination of poverty and unequal land ownership means the Maya Biosphere Reserve is a prime target for poor Guatemalans seeking land.

A related problem is the population growth in El Petén. The population growth rate here is estimated to be as high as 10% (see Economics). With such a population growth rate, people will be demanding more resources from the rainforests, as well as more land to farm their crops in the future.

Oil and Roads
Another difficulty for maintaining the Reserve is that it contains oil. Although having oil is good news for the troubled Guatemalan economy, it is not so good for conserving the Reserve. In addition to the clearing of forests for the oil pipeline, the access roads built to construct the pipeline are also very destructive. These roads require the clearing of forests, but what is more harmful is that they provide easy access for groups seeking to illegally use the Reserve.

The problems discussed above are complicated by the decrease in conflict as a result of the end of the Guatemalan civil war (see The Maya). Of course, the end of the war is a good thing, but it has turned attention to the rainforests. Guatemala is now trying to rebuild its economy, and the rainforests, rich in products, are important in this economic recovery. In addition to timber, there is strong interest in exploring the Reserve for oil2. The violence, however, has not completely ended. Those affiliated with an environmental group working to conserve the Maya Biosphere Reserve have a dangerous job. Since environmental groups seek to protect the rainforests from harmful activities, they can be the target of groups who wish to illegally exploit the rainforest. These confrontations can sometimes turn violent. In 1997, a group of environmentalists were kidnapped. In the same year, an environmentalist was shot to death3.

All of the problems discussed in this section make preserving the Maya Biosphere Reserve a very challenging goal.

1Eoloff, J., Kaufman, M.B., and Schwind, K. (1998). A crude awakening: The World Bank, US policy and oil in Guatemala. Washington, DC: Witness for Peace.

2Burnett, J. (1998). After the wars: Protecting Central America's environment. [Online] Available: http://www.txinfinet.com/mader/planeta/0898/0898jbpeace.html [1999, November 1].

3Burnett, J. (1998). Guatemala struggles to protect Maya rain forest from invaders. [Online] Available: http://www.txinfinet.com/mader/planeta/0598/0598jbguate.html [1999, November 1].


The Maya..| Rainforests..|.Sustainable Development..|..The Maya Biosphere Reserve..|....
Challenges to the Reserve

Privacy Statement and Copyright © 1999-2002 by Wheeling Jesuit University/Center for Educational Technologies®. All rights reserved.