And while the Coronavirus remains thousands of miles away tonight, there is an all too familiar problem looming over Belize. Today, the Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum issued a weather forecast alerting us of an even more severe drought than what we had in 2019. A drought watch is in the pipeline as Belize could have an even longer drought season. It was only a few months ago when the north, in particular, was deeply impacted by the dry weather. The New River became contaminated and crops were destroyed. According to the Chief Executive Officer for the Ministry of the Environment, Percival Cho, the ministry is looking at mitigating the impacts.
Percival Cho, CEO, Ministry of Environment: That gives us a mandate to be very much more aggressive with preparations for any possible repeat of the eutrophication event we saw last year. So what do those preparations look like? Initially the task force met last week and they had discussed around providing an update to the Ministry being myself and the Minister so we are up to speed on what actions have been taken since last year – so that has been done. Two, we in discussion with them are considering proposing some more aggressive measures to specifically look at controlling the volumes of effluent from point sources that we have identified that are going into the New River. So with eutrophication as we had explained last year, when there’s a lot of nitrogen runoff from agricultural fields, urban areas, coupled with a lot of organic input say waste material etc you get a high level of anaerobic breakdown of these materials and they create a very toxic environment in the river. So if we reduce either amounts of the nitrogen going in or organic matter we should be able to see some level of positive impact but at the same time we need to be prepared for any event and so we’ll obviously be prepared to conduct the same level of aeration in the rivers as we did last year.”
As it relates to the New River, the recent drought highlighted the disposal of chemicals and the likes from the industries along the river banks. CEO Cho was asked if officials are monitoring these factories to ensure that their effluents are being dealt with properly and complying with the regulations.
Percival Cho, CEO, Ministry of Environment: “We have also some meetings scheduled or proposed with some of the larger emitters of effluent in that watershed region for early February. Obviously the purpose of that would be to ensure that we get their buy in, their cooperation with the agenda that we will put in place ahead of this dry season. We have always seen the willingness to cooperate from these industries. I think the DOE and the Ministry have a good working relationship with these industries so it’s a matter of I think ensuring that we look at the major sources and begin to make them very much compliant with any reductions that we request of them in the volumes. So one thing like we said is the quality of the effluent, the other is the volume so in this case we also want to focus on the volumes which is in addition to the quality of the effluent.”
The Ministry of the Environment will be meeting with members of the Task Force where they will present a report of last year’s findings. Using those findings, the task force will chart a way forward.