The three days of rain which flooded Belize City earlier this month provided a foretaste of what is to come if global warming continues to contribute to rising sea levels.
Belize City is not below sea level, but when the ocean tide is high, it raises the level of the river which in turn raises the level of water in our drainage canals. When this happens run-off water from the rain has no place to go, so it accumulates on our streets.
As soon as the ocean tide goes down and the canal drainage network snaps back into action, the drains take over and do their work, and the water accumulated on the streets can run off quickly.
The problem is one which many coastal cities and towns have to confront. It is not one which we can solve by building better drains. The Belize River/Haulover Creek which is our friend and comfort during much of the year, becomes our challenge when we have the combination of heavy rains and high tide.
This is something we have to consider when we make our plans to expand the City or think of new housing areas to take care of the City’s bulging poulation. It is a serious problem because we don’t have any readily available land for expansion. Our city is surrounded by water on three sides, and any effort to find more land for housing will be a challenge.
In recent years satellite villages like Ladyville, Lord’s Bank, and Bellama, Hattieville, the Community at Mile 8, Bella Vista, Los Lagos, Maxborough and even Mahogany Heights have absorbed much of the Belize City spill-over. Yet the population crush continues – mostly among the poor.
As a result slum communities like Gungaloon and Kruhman Lagoon have sprung up with hundreds of ramshackle shelters where people live in great poverty, in unsafe and unhealthy communities.
Clearly our government needs to allocate more resources to housing, especially low cost housing, but the bigger challenge will be to find dry land for growth. Further investments in housing will bring big benefits in education. Children living under slum conditions cannot study and do well in school. There will also be benefits in community health and in fewer social problems such as gang violence.
Other crowded cities have solved this space problem by building upward instead of outward, and eventually this is what Belize City will have to do. But for now there is still some land in the outskirts of Belize City which we can put to use. The challenge is for us to find out where the land is. Once we have identified the land we can set our engineers and planners to work to decide on how to proceed.
In Belize Habitat for Humanity has teamed up with the Rotary Club of Belize to produce low-cost housing for the poor, but they produce on average three of four houses a year. If they were to get government (PetroCaribe?) and community support, they could perhaps produce four low cost houses a month, which is more in line with Belize’s needs (48 a year).
This is something the next elected government of Belize needs to think about. But we will need a Minister of Housing who is willing to roll up his sleeves and get to work.
The exhilirating news that the Brits are coming back to Belize was received with great enthusiasm, following the Prime Minister’s surprise announcement that the British Army Training and Support Unit Belize (BATSUB), will be back in Belize.
We were unhappy to see them go in 2011, but now that they’re back Belizeans welcome them with open arms. It is expected that the deployment will reach 2,000 by the end of next year and can be renewed at the end of five years.
BATSUB has a dual mission in Belize. The troops will be here for jungle training and while employed in jungle training, will train Belize Defence Force soldiers.
Belize has some of the finest jungle terrain for military training, and as British Commander of Land Forces, Lieutenant General James Everhard pointed out, British and Belizean forces work well together.
But the arrangement is worth more than the sum of its parts. British Forces will be a significant deterrent to any Guatemalan notion of aggression, and Belize will be able, by virtue of improved logistics, to do a better job of patrolling our western and southern borders.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow pointed to economic advantages since some civilian jobs will be generated and the troops will be spending their private money besides. We might add, that our eligible Belizean girls will also welcome the prospect of new suitors.