Belize

The concept of protected areas, born in the United States in the nineteenth century as an idea of conservation by establishing “national parks,” was part of the colonization of the “Wild West” and, in many cases served as an instrument to appropriate indigenous peoples’ territory, handing it over to the States, research centres or corporate interests.  Although an international organization such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has acknowledged that when establishing protected areas, indigenous peo
The Belize National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC) announced in November 2001 that the government has granted environmental clearance for the construction of a proposed hydro-scheme (see WRM bulletin 44) slated for an undisturbed river valley within the Central Maya Mountains near the Guatemalan border, conditional upon the development of an Environmental Compliance Plan (ECP), which will incorporate the mitigation measures identified in the environmental impact assessment, along with others recommended during the evaluation process.
In 1999 local residents of Placencia Lagoon --a shallow water body fringed by mangroves and very rich in terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, located in southern Belize-- organized themselves to resist a project to build a two-lane causeway and a bridge across the Lagoon. The works would have caused a severe environmental impact, damaging ecotourism, the main activity in the area, as well as small scale fishing (see WRM Bulletin 23). A new threat is now pending on this rich ecosystem: industrial shrimp farming.
In the last issue of our bulletin we included an article on Belize, calling it a country "where forests can still be saved." We should have added: "if the government and a Canadian power company allows it." The fact is that the Canadian based Fortis Inc. -- which also holds a majority stake in Belize Electricity Ltd.-- is planning to build a dam along a branch of the Macal River.
Much of the Belizean territory is still covered by forests, which host an enormous diversity in plant and animal life. Those forests have however been exploited for centuries in an unsustainable manner. What the forest hides is the fact that the most commercially valuable hardwood species have all but disappeared, particularly mahogany.
Placencia Lagoon in southern Belize separates the Placencia Peninsula from the southern Belize mainland. Mangroves in the Lagoon are an essential component of the Placencia Peninsula estuary system, filtering inland water, protecting the coastline and serving as home to large numbers species of the tropical wildlife.
With 22,960 square kilometres and 220,000 inhabitants Belize is the smallest and less populated country in Central America. 83% of its territory is covered by forests, most of them in a pristine state, and 40% of the country is now protected as parks and reserves. As in many other Southern countries dam megaprojects are a major problem for Belize's forests and people.