UN Enviroment Programme

Chapter 9. Status of soil pollution in Latin America and the Caribbean


Author: Rosalina González Forero, La Salle University, Colombia

Acknowledgements: Valentina Barragan, Daniela Serna, Nathaly Castillo, Yeferson Mendez, Smith Ortega, La Salle University, Colombia; Olegario Muñiz Ugarte, Soil Institute, Ministry of Agriculture of Cuba; Clístenes Williams Araújo do Nascimento, Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, Brazil

The Latin American and the Caribbean region includes 43 countries and territories (Figure 1) as it corresponds to the Global Soil Partnership regional division. The countries in the region can be grouped into three sub-regions, the Caribbean, Central America and South America as below:

  • the Caribbean: Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curaçao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Sint Maarten (Dutch part), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint-Martin (French part), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands;
  • Central America: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama; and
  • South America: Argentina, the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

Figure 1. Latin America and the Caribbean region as considered in this report.

Source: UN, 2020 modified with data from FAO, 2021.

According to the World Bank, this region had a population of approximately 640 million in 2018, with a gross domestic product per capita of USD 9 072 and a gross national income per capita of USD 7 325 (World Bank, 2019a). The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC, 2019) indicated that the region is the most unequal in the world and that this inequality persists, especially with regard to access to healthcare and the exercise of political, economic, social and cultural rights. Latin America and the Caribbean has the world’s largest reserves of arable land. About 47 percent of the soil is still covered with forest. During the last 50 years the region’s agricultural surface area increased considerably, from 561 million ha to 741 million ha (FAOSTAT, 2020b). In addition, as climate change is increasingly evident and its effects are more frequent, the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a major challenge in the region.

Information on soil pollution varies between countries in terms of soil policy, soil management and the profile of people working in this area (academics, policymakers, technicians and farmers). Many sources of information have been considered to prepare this regional assessment, including official reports, scientific papers and the responses to the questionnaire mentioned in Chapter 1.