Course Description


MIT 3953G-001 (Winter 2018)   Special Topics in MIT: El Salvador: Mining, Agro Toxics and Environmental Crisis

Instructor: A. Grzyb

Course Description
As the country of El Salvador continues to recover from a long and bloody civil war (1980-1992), a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that it could be heading towards an environmental crisis if drastic measures are not taken to reverse degradation caused by pollution, deforestation and the chronic dependence on carbon fuels, pesticides and other agro-toxics. The perspectives for environmental recovery are challenging. With a territorial extension of only 20-thousand square kilometers, El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America and the most densely populated country in the hemisphere. The national levels of soil erosion are high due to its geographic location and the fact that more than 90% of the national territory is deforested. In 2010, a water quality study on surface water resources conducted by the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) concluded that only 2% of the country`s surface water is fit for human consumption and for the growth of aquatic life. The country placed number four in a 2012 report by German Watch of the 10 countries most affected by climate change. The report further claims that El Salvador is regularly featured on the list due to its frequent exposure to the impacts of the Atlantic hurricane season. Another report by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery claims that almost 90% of the national territory of El Salvador is presently at risk to extreme weather phenomena, 95% of the population live in risk zones, and 96% of Salvadoran gross domestic product (GDP) is produced in risk zones. Salvadoran government authorities have taken notice of the crisis and have begun to take measures to foster long term sustainability, but with an economy crippled by inequality, unemployment, codependence on foreign aid, globalized markets, and the legacy of a violent past, environmental conflicts threaten to bring further instability to the country.

This unique international educational opportunity will provide students with an opportunity to complete intensive background reading for six weeks, followed by a week-long trip to El Salvador to learn directly from Salvadoran community leaders at the forefront of the struggle for environmental justice. At the conclusion of the trip, participants will act as international observers in a municipal consulta (referendum) on mining in the community of Cinquera, Cabañas. When they return from El Salvador, students will engage in six weeks of intensive individual research that will culminate in a summary presentation (March 31) and a 4500-5000 word research paper (due April 7).

Faculty-Led Study Abroad Component
The course includes a one-week study abroad component in El Salvador from February 19-27 co-led by Professor Amanda Grzyb and CRIPDES International Liaison and Community Organizer, Pedro Cabezas. The trip will cost $1000 plus the cost of airfare from Toronto to San Salvador. The fee covers all in-country transportation, accommodation, and meals.


Prerequisites: Permission from the instructor.

0.5 course



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