UN Enviroment Programme

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

Main constraints to tackle soil pollution in Latin America and the Caribbean

9.8.1. Lack of awareness

The lack of awareness of soil pollution is present at national and community levels in the region. It was only since 2010 that many countries started to develop specific regulations on soil pollution. Urban and rural populations are beginning to demand the cleanliness and suitability of contaminated sites in their countries as they become aware of the causality between some of the diseases they suffer from and the state of the environment around them. This is a relatively new area, and countries are struggling to meet their international commitments. Progress to address polluted soil has been slowed a number of factors including: the lack of specific regulations; scarcity of research; lack of funds to access technology; appropriately qualified personnel with expertise for the mapping and monitoring of soil contamination; and the lack of funds to properly equip and resource laboratories.

Without regular and consistent funding being available to finance remediation projects, the private sector lacks the incentive to develop its capacity and technologies for addressing soil pollution. The long-term implications are that remediation outcomes are likely to be more expensive and uncertain in their success.

9.8.2. Lack of political will and leadership

Unfortunately, soil pollution is not a political priority in Latin America and the Caribbean countries. Remediation of soil pollution is not rewarded financially or politically, as it often takes several years to achieve positive results. A lack of awareness of the risks of soil pollution has been observed, mainly among the urban population, including at the political level, who consider it a rural issue as soil is frequently not seen as an environmental aspect in urban areas. It is therefore essential to raise awareness of the importance of urban soils, the key ecosystem services they provide and the environmental and health impacts of soil pollution.

Another important way to improve the situation in the region is to establish mandatory threshold values for soil contaminants and soil quality standards in national legislation and develop further risk-based approaches that are feasible and applicable in all countries in the region. It is also important that international best practice in monitoring and remediating soil pollution is shared between countries of the region.

9.8.3. Infrastructure and capacity gap

In most countries, there are technical limitations in both research and government laboratories, reducing the availability of information and access to innovative remediation technologies. Despite the presence of qualified personnel, technical advisory services and knowledge sharing with other countries and regions (for example, workshops and demonstrations) needs to be strengthened.