Can you imagine a scenario where in Belize City, in 2016, raw sewage is being pumped into the Haulover Creek? Incredible, right? But it’s true. News Five visited a site on North Front Street where we saw a pipe spilling human waste, right into the river just across from the Port Authority, next to a guesthouse, down the street from Holy Redeemer. Apparently it’s been happening for years and is an accepted part of B.W.S. infrastructure, acknowledged by all pertinent stakeholders like the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Health. Today our News Five team got the sense and smell of what is a shocking, institutionalized and apparently acceptable health and environmental hazard in Belize City. Mike Rudon has the story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
Guests of the Smokin’ Balam guesthouse located on North Front Street probably love to sit on this back verandah and stare at the picturesque Haulover Creek, watching the fishermen head out to sea. They can go back home and tell great stories about their stay on the bank of the river. That’s what guesthouse owner Anna Lara hopes. But what she’s afraid of is that they’ll talk about the fact that raw sewage is being pumped into the river just next to the guesthouse. To put it mildly, the entire area stinks. That’s bad business, and really bad for business.
Anna Lara, Owner of Smokin’ Balam
“When we have walk-ins we can’t take them when the river is like this. Our hotel is budget, budget-packers, and we have rooms for that kind of accommodation. So when these people come we have to move them from the rooms assigned to them to a difference room. We can’t give them the rooms they asked for.”
“Because of the smell.”
“Because of the smell. And I don’t want them to get the impression that this is how Belize is. It doesn’t reflect on the river, it reflects on me. It reflects on my guesthouse. It says this is what I have in my guesthouse, how it smells, so I have to make sure they don’t get that in their rooms.”
According to Alpuche, this pipe pumps all the time, and it’s been happening for years. It’s not only this liquid waste you see gushing out, but also excrement – straight from your toilet to the river where it is most certainly a serious hazard.
“We have children fishing, children washing their hands in the river, children swimming in the river, children in their little boats going into the river. And then also you have teachers coming here with their children to clean up the environment when this pump is dumping. I have seen solid waste, and even the guys that are here behind here working they have seen it, and you would hear them comment…man a big one drop out.”
She’s not lying. Just standing there this morning we got a nasty little unwelcome surprise. Lara says she’s tried every avenue to deal with the problem.
“This year I have spoken to the Health Department, Mr. Alpuche, I have sent videos to them, videos to the Ministry of Health, videos to the environment place and even to the Belize Water Service to show them what is happening here.”
“And no response?”
“Well BWS assure me that they are on top of it…they are in meetings trying to find solutions to this long term problem. But while they are finding solutions it is affecting me, it is affecting my family, it’s affecting my business…it’s affecting my health.”
Roberto Pott, Belize Coordinator, Healthy Reefs
“My first concern is that we do have people living along Haulover Creek. I grew up in Buttonwood Bay and to go swim in freshwater we would cross the highway and go and swim in that river. And I think we still have children swimming in that river. So people picking up ecoli and fecal coliform directly would be my first concern. Further than that though I would be concerned that it starts to get in our food chain and people eating fish and that could be a bigger concern for Belize, especially for those who like seafood.”
According to Roberto Pott from Healthy Reefs, they’ve been told that fixing this problem would require an investment from BWS of close to two hundred million dollars. So for now…it just is what it is, as unpleasant, unsanitary and hazardous as it is.
“Fix it…fix this problem so that we stop having this here dumping. This isn’t supposed to be pumping here. This affects the sea life, the river life. I don’t know what kind of disease this is bringing to us.”
“Belize City is still an area of commerce and if you want to encourage development, encourage sustainable development, it could have huge impacts in terms of the cost of our health, maintaining our health, if you constantly have people getting sick and you’re not sure where that is being introduced into our system then you will bear the cost one way or the other.”
The implications might be further reaching than just disease and other health concerns. This waste you see pumping into Haulover Creek is very likely also affecting our reef.
“What we’ve recorded at Healthy Reefs is a heavy growth of algae on our reefs and we’ve been trying to find the source. It’s been difficult because the data isn’t readily available. A few people have collected data maybe out here related to development projects. So we’ve picked up bits and pieces of data that shows high ecoli and fecal coliform which is an indication that raw sewage is getting into our sea and into our waterways .”
Reliable information is that there are other sites where waste is pumped into our waterways – one by the BTL Park and another by the Hangar in King’s Park. We went looking and sure enough we found this pipe pumping merrily directly into the Caribbean. From the bleaching of the rocks in front of the pipe, it’s probably safe to assume that’s not water coming out it.
In April, News Five brought you the shocking story of raw sewage being pumped into the Haulover Creek on North Front Street. We say shocking because it was, to us at least, but apparently this is something which has been happening for a long time. We tried to get BWS for comment but anybody who could have commented suddenly became unavailable. From what we were able to determine, the problem is a city sewer system which needs a comprehensive upgrade. At this point in time that is prohibitively expensive. So in the meantime the city dumps some of its raw sewage, and we mean raw, in the Haulover Creek where children actually go to fish. Since BWS isn’t talking, News five brought it up with Mayor Darrell Bradley on Wednesday. He referred to the situation as alarming and explained that the issue of sewage and connection to the sewage system has not been given enough attention.
Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor
“Many parts of Belize City are not connected to the system itself. People don’t even know that. As you indicated you have pipes which just put the waste just out there. This is one of the things in the press conference that I had mentioned that when we were looking at the flood mitigation project there were seven units including Holy Redeemer School itself that was not connected to the sewage system…so a school like Holy Redeemer it just flowed out into the river freely. So when the inspection was done, and looking at that it was very unsightly and unhealthy, and one of the things that the project was able to do is that the project was able to pay for at least those seven units to be connected to the main sewage system so at least that was alleviated. But there are many other areas in the city where that happens, and we need to look at that quite, quite seriously. It’s not a responsibility for the City Council because we don’t control the sewer lines and ensuring that people are connected to the sewer.”
News Five has gotten a report that very recently, following our story, BWS has been doing some work at the sewage dump site at North Front Street.