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Drought Is Only The Beginning

Drought Is Only The Beginning
September 02
13:22 2019

Sunday, September, 1st. 2019 –

Belize is in a drought like condition and has been for some time now; but you would never guess by the response of the government.

We have water running through our pipes so in the minds of those in Belmopan, there is nothing to worry about.
Many Belizeans were shocked into the reality of our drought condition when the plight of our farmers made the news last week. The loss of crops will have a direct impact on our food supply and what the experts call food security. But the drought-induced shortage will present an opportunity for somebody to import and we all know who gets access to the import permits.

It is no secret that over the last five years or so, we have been experiencing drought like conditions on a more frequent basis. Thankfully they have not been of the extreme kind, but climate change projections have been telling us that we will reach there, and soon.

In June 2017 the National Meteorological Department held its annual National Climate Outlook Forum with stakeholders from the agriculture, energy and tourism sectors. One of the main points of discussion was drought. In May of 2018 the Meteorological Department held another Climate Outlook Forum and again one of the points of discussion was drought.
In November of 2017 the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center held a workshop to launch their new drought prediction tool; a tool that should have helped us to plan for drought with a degree of accuracy. It appears that the folks at the Ministry of Agriculture have not been using this tool or any drought prediction tool for that matter.

In April 2019 BEL, as part of its annual tariff review, announced that it had suffered significant losses due to lower than expected sales and higher than expected costs of power. BEL pointed to a significant loss of production from hydro sources due to drought; that meant that they had to purchase more power from CFE which is more costly than hydro power.
Given all that has been said above, how could the Ministry of Agriculture be caught so flatfooted in 2019? How could it not have forecast the severe impact of the drought in the north when the Meteorological Department does such a good job with its agro-metrological forecast despite its limited resources?

Climate change is a very real phenomenon and those nations that will emerge from it will be those nations that prepare their people. Unfortunately, climate change has become a buzz word in Belize. It is used by everybody to sound enlightened but in reality very little is being done to prepare Belize for what will be a punishing time over the next thirty to fifty years. None of our politicians will be around to deal with this portending crisis so we can understand why their behavior is what it is!

The National Climate Change Office (NCCO), less than five years old, has not been given sufficient of a mandate (worse the resources) to lead us through the climate challenges ahead. Climate change is a cross-cutting issue and it touches every human activity so the difficulty facing the NCCO is how to mainstream climate change without stepping on anybody’s toes given the territorial nature of the public sector.

It would be interesting to know what role the NCCO played in the current state of unpreparedness, if any. Did the NCCO offer any advice to the Ministry of Agriculture? If so, why was their advice ignored to the point where hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost by our farmers?

Whatever the role of the NCCO may have been, it is the duty of the government of Belize to prepare all Belizeans for the impact of climate change and climate variation. The public sector has been the beneficiary of practically all the money available to Belize for climate change and even when the private sector is to benefit, the government must give a letter of “no objection.” The burden of preparing us to adapt to climate change therefore rests squarely on the public sector.
When the Guatemalans started acting up on the Sarstoon we were inclined to frame the wresting of the Sarstoon in the usual way. We immediately linked it to the unfounded claim even as our government tried to convince us that there was no annexation. I have been warning that the Guatemalans’ behavior at the Sarstoon is more than just geo-politics, it is about water security.

To repeat, the projections for climate change suggest that water scarcity will become a real challenge for all countries in Central America and those countries with adequate water resources can become powerful if they manage such resources properly. Water, it is said, will be the next trigger for global conflict.

The Sarstoon, with its head waters in Guatemala’s department of Alta Verapaz, provides an outflow of 6.042 Km³/year which is 88 times BWSL’s annual harvesting rate: ~2.98 billion gallons. Half of that water belongs to us but by controlling the entire river the Guatemalans have effectively stolen a significant chunk of our fresh water resources. Whereas Belize does not in any way harvest much of the water from the Sarstoon, as droughts become more severe and persistent, we would need access to all our fresh water resources.

The failure of the Ministry of Agriculture to properly deal with a short-term drought should provide valuable lessons for us. In as much as some of our farmers have been hit with huge losses, the costs to Belize will be far higher if our leaders don’t pay the proper attention to the issue of climate change.

Drought is only the beginning as the climate impact projections are for a cocktail of pain. Belize has time to prepare but the lack of urgency demonstrated by the Ministry of Agriculture is absolutely alarming! We can only hope that this is not the general posture of the entire public sector. If it is, we are doomed!

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