Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, prides itself as the only Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member country that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the rainforest on the eastern coast of Central
It has a population of approximately 324, 000 persons – more than three times the number of persons living in the Isle of Spice which is Grenada.
The 22, 965 sq. km island is home to a small and diverse nation that speaks many languages – English, Spanish, Belizean Creole, Mayan and Garifuna, the language of the Caribs.
Belize has another thing common with Grenada – tourism is a major source of foreign exchange earnings and many of its attractions include wildlife, Mayan ruins and the home to the longest barrier reefs in the world.
Like most member territories, Belize is in dire needs of funds to help tackle the effects of climate change on its population.
And there is an ongoing debate there on whether some of the impact on the landscape that can be visible seen is due to climatic changes or man-made as a result of careless actions on the part of the people themselves.
A group of Caribbean journalists drawn from Grenada, Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and the host country Belize attended a 2-day workshop in Belize City from April 25-26 focusing on “Climate Change Capacity Building for Media Practitioners”.
The workshop was funded primarily by the United Nations Development Programme and the Japan-Caribbean Climate Change Partnership (J-CCCP0, a regional initiative covering Barbados, the Windward Islands along with Guyana, Jamaica, and Suriname.
The journalists were exposed to classroom sessions carried out by experts, including veteran communication experts, Dr Everold Hosein, the Trinidad and Tobago-born communication expert who is now promoting a concept known as Communication for Behavioural Impact (COMBI) which has attracted the attention of the UN World Health Organisation (WHO).
Another expert who shared his experience with the assembled media personnel was Dr. Kalim Shah, the Managing Director of Valinor Research & Consulting, and one who is considered as a Climate Change and Energy policy expert.
The other facilitator at the workshop was US-based Mary Owen, with 15 years experience in the field of Journalism who is Digital Content Producer for ABC News in Chicago.
The media practitioners were afforded the opportunity to visit a local hotbed community known as Southside Belize City, a coastal community that is considered a hotbed for crimes including a high murder rate.
Sitting in the midst of the community is a high school for girls and boys known as Wesley College – a name that should be well known by most Grenadians due to its own Wesley College that was once located on Lucas Street, St. George’s.
The school is located on the edge of the seafront and from time to time has been forced to close its door to students due to frequent flooding as a result of the changing weather patterns.
It is quite noticeable that the sea is coming further inland forcing the school authorities to embark upon a small reclamation project for its own existence and survival.
The Deputy Principal of the school told the visiting Caribbean media personnel that quite often the entire school body including the students are forced into a mopping up exercise as the institution is flooded out in times of heavy rainfall.
“We have lost a lot of sea frontage due to soil erosion”, he told the journalists, adding that the school has been trying its hand at some land reclamation.
The school itself has been forced to expand by building upwards due to a lessening of the land space around it.
One of the female students who stressed that since coming to the school to study she noticed that “the sea is coming in closer and closer to the school”.
“We used to go to the water and take a swim but can’t do that anymore”, she said.
The student lamented the fact that the water has gotten “more murky” due to the actions of residents as virtually everything lands up in their area including waste from further upstream that is washed down by the tide.
All sorts of debris including empty soft drink bottles, dead animals, and household items that have been thrown out from homes into the open sea eventually find their way to the seafront of the school.
Unlike some of the other residents who blamed climate change for the problem around the area, the students pointed an accusing finger at some of the people themselves for throwing barrage in the Canal waterway and blocking the path of the water resulting in the huge pile up of garbage.
“The canal is drying up”, one of the students said, as she advocated the need for the authorities to engage in more Public Relations work to inform residents of the measures that ought to be taken to prevent some of the garbage-related problems.
In another section of the area, the few people found around the Canal attributed the problem with the reduction of its water level to the effects of climate change.
“It has got to do with climate change”, said a gentleman in his 50’s who gave his name as Mark.
He stated that since last September the community has been experiencing the problem of lower and lower water in the Canal and rejected the notion that it could have resulted from the actions of villagers throwing garbage into the sea and clogging up the water passage.
Mark was supported by an unnamed fisherman who claimed that his livelihood was being affected by the significant drop in the water levels in the Canal.
He pointed out that there is now no fish and shrimps to be caught in the waterway for him to sell to earn a livelihood to support his family.
The residents blamed the actions of the local authorities for contributing to the pile up of garbage around the shorelines.
According to Mark, the problem became more acute as the River was dredged upstream and the debris started to find its way into their portion of the island.
In the classroom setting, a pitch was made by the facilitators for the media personnel to start seeing climate change as an issue that should grab the headlines in their work in order to create greater awareness of the growing problem among the local population.
The J-CCCP is carrying out its work programme in-keeping with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change involving world leaders to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
Caribbean government are involved in these efforts in order to cash in on funding available from international organisations on the latest financial train – Climate Change.
The fear in the English-speaking Caribbean is that climate change is something caused by the actions of the major industrialised nations of the world that can contribute to more frequent and powerful hurricanes in the region that can impact the livelihood of thousands of people.