Environmental Symposium held

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 10, No. 3            January 20, 2000

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Under the theme, "Environmental Equilibrium for Belize into the Twenty First Century," the third National Symposium on the State of the Environment took place on January 13th and 14th . Partners in the initiative included the Department of the Environment (DOE), the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT), The Belize Audubon Society (BAS) and the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (CCAD). The event was designed to give people from all walks of life an opportunity to speak out, exchange viewpoints and elevate awareness and included the development community in an effort to bridge the gap between the various interest groups concerning the environment..

    In her welcome address, Executive Director of PACT, Valerie Woods-Smith stressed the importance of looking at the environment in the context of Belize reality - the standard of living, the need for higher education, infrastructural development and quality of life for all. She emphasized how we move forward, by creating more tangible benefits from the environment, for all communities nationwide, in a sustainable manner, is how we will be judged on our management of Belize's natural resources. 

    Deputy Prime Minister John Briceño, also Minister of Natural Resources, gave the keynote address in which he explained government's dilemma in finding an "equilibrium between economic development and a clean environment." He continued his speech by mentioning the direction government is taking in trying to ensure a cleaner Belize, such as encouraging non-polluting, environmentally responsible industries, tougher anti-litter laws with enforcement, and environmental awareness programs.

    The huge cross-section of Belizeans that turned out was so enthusiastic that registration had to be closed at 350 participants, and although they could not offer the registered amenities (seating, lunch, etc.) to all, at times more than 400 people filled the room. Three methods of communication were used for this symposium and featured 1) open forum question and answer period, 2) written questions that were collected, sorted and read by the panelists and 3) an afternoon group discussion that also produced three questions for the panelists.   

    Five topics regarding the environment were featured the first day: Natural Resource Management & Utilization, Local Perspectives on Key Environmental Issues, Economic Development & Environmental Protection, Population Growth and its Effects on the Environment and Advocating for Environment & Development. Fifteen minute presentations were given by various authorities on the subjects with a question and answer period following each. Three topics by main speakers were given the second day. After the presentation by the main speaker, three panelists were invited to give their views on the subject and an open forum discussion ensued with those attending. The first topic focused on the Sustainable Use of our Fisheries Resources, but the most heated discussions revolved around the two final topics of day: Solid Waste Management Concerns (Sanitary Landfill at Mile 37) and Energy Development & the Environment (Chalillo Dam Project).

   In talking with Valdemar Andrade, Advocacy Coordinator for the Belize Audubon Society (BAS), he commented on "the wonderful response to this symposium, especially from the private sector." He believes that regional forums should be formed and major issues from all sectors be prioritized for the national symposium. He mentioned two of the main recommendations coming out of this as 1) a demand that pertinent Ministry or government representatives be present not only for opening ceremonies but during the entire two-day discussions, and as always, 2) stricter enforcement of legislation.

    Environmental Officer Martin Allegria of the Department of the Environment told the San Pedro Sun, "The symposium was very successful, based on attendance and the presenters ëpulling their weight'. I had hoped for more participation for resolutions this time, not just for recommendations." His agency spoke on the DOE's accomplishments as well as shortfalls in addressing environmental issues since the last symposium. He also mentioned two of the more important recommendations being 1) including social issues into discussions; reporting the social impact as well, when performing an Environmental Impact Assessment and 2) government giving priority to water resource management. He assures that his department is "planning for the future of Belize" with many ongoing projects, such as the Solid Waste Management, which was clarified during the two day event.

    Applause to all who care, took the time to attend and made presentations for these most important environmental issues. Completed data for the Third National Symposium on the State of Belize's Environment will now be compiled and should be ready for review in the next month or so. In the interim, Belizeans around the country are reminded that "Environmental Protection is Everybody's Business."

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