Hurricane Iris has cost Belize over $300 million dollars in damage to
the agricultural and
tourism industries, housing and infrastructure, Prime Minister Said Musa
told the nation in
a press conference broadcast live on Monday. He also unveiled a 10-point
plan of action to
meet the needs of the crisis, pointing out that Iris' damage comes hard
on the heels of
the economic shock waves which have been affecting Belize following the
September 13
terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.


Worst hit was the agricultural sector of the Stann Creek and Toledo
districts, which
suffered an estimated $161 million in damages. The storm flattened 5,500
acres of
bananas, for which the losses have been estimated at some $100 million.
The storm also
destroyed some 3,581 aces of rice, 5,570 acres of corn, 730 acres of
cacao, 35 acres of hot
peppers, 203 acres of plantains, 700 acres of mango, some citrus and all
the root crops
and vegetables in the affected areas.


The tourism sector was also hard hit with an estimated $73.7 million in
losses. Iris
destroyed 90% of all tourism accommodations on the Placencia peninsula,
including the
villages of Seine Bight, Maya Beach and Placencia. Up until then the
area had been
experiencing a tourism boom, with the fastest growth in the country. The
storm damaged
82 registered hotels ( a fifth of all the hotels in the country) causing
570 hotel rooms to
need rebuilding or repair. The losses in property, plant and equipment
are estimated at
$25.1 million. The private sector also estimates their lost revenue at
$46.3 million, and
government lost an estimated $2.2 million in taxes.


A preliminary head count also showed 12,000 -13,000 people left homeless
as the storm
destroyed 3,178 homes. Monkey River village, closest to the storm's
landfall, was worst
hit with 95% of the buildings destroyed, save for the community center
in which 75
villagers survived the storm's passage, and the health center.


In the Toledo district 27 villages report damages, and another 11
villages in the Stann
Creek District were affected, reporting 85% of the homes damaged, and
90% of the
houses in Independence village were damaged.


Rebuilding some 3,000 homes will cost government $40 million to finance
low income
housing at a cost of $12,000 per unit. These will be built to
incorporate a solid concrete
hurricane-resistant room at the core of the structure in which the
residents may weather
future hurricane disasters.


The Prime Minister of the Bahamas has already announced that they will
donate 50 of
these houses, a $6 million value, and Prime Minister Musa invited other
benefactors to
follow this example.


Infrastructural damage is also estimated at $25 million dollars. Some 15
school buildings
were completely destroyed, 11 were partially destroyed, 4 were
extensively damaged, and
one experienced superficial damage. Twelve health centers were also hit,
and the health
workers have prioritized the provision of safe drinking water and
primary health care to
prevent any disease outbreak among the hurricane victims.


To counter this Musa has restructured his Cabinet and said he will also
be restructuring
the entire executive to maximize efficiency and accountability. The new
priorities for
recovery will also require restructuring of the national budget to
redirect funding.


All financial institutions, including the Central Bank, the Development
Finance Corporation,
the Small Farmers and Businesses Bank, the commercial banks and the
insurance
companies have been instructed to cooperate in providing the financing
necessary for
rebuilding and investment.


Government will approach external lending partners and international
funding agencies to
meet the cost of reconstruction and to keep Belize's economic growth
positive.
In addition to the house building program, government is working to
repair infrastructure:
schools, health posts, and police stations.


The government has already approached the Inter American Development
Bank for loan
funding to help the banana and tourism industry replant and recover in
the shortest time
possible. Funding will be channeled through the DFC as it becomes
available.


The Southern Highway is a key infrastructure component of any future
development in the
Toledo district, and government is committed to its completion and the
connection to the
Pan American Highway through the San Antonio road.


The Ministry of Agriculture will also be helping farmers replant rice,
grains, cacao, and
other crops and livestock production, including the aquaculture
industry. The government
will assist farmers to obtain soft loans at low interest rates and long
term repayment
plans.


Other infrastructure, light, water and communications are being restored
through the
public utilities: Belize Electricity Limited, Belize Water Services Ltd.
and Belize
Telecommunications Ltd.


The prime minister noted that Belize is facing the cost of these new
investments even as
it implements tighter security measures and procedures to comply with
new FAA security
regulations for all flights destined for the United States, thereby
ensuring that the number
of airline seats to Belize will not be reduced. These investments were
required at a time
when the attacks have caused a reduction in revenue.


In all this doom and gloom, the storm clouds still had a silver lining.
Belize has entered
into agreements with European cruise lines with 34 more port calls per
year which will
mean year-round cruise ship tourism for the first time in Belize. The
Fort George Tourism
Village anticipates that it may be welcoming 171 ship visits next year
with as many as
250,000 cruise passengers.


Belize will recover from hurricane Iris, even as it recovered from
hurricane Keith, with a lot
of hard work.