How Belize is showing up Jamaica

Monday, February 06, 2012

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Those who have visited the BBC website in recent days may well have read the inspiring story of efforts by our CARICOM sister nation of Belize to "balance" its thriving tourist industry with protection of its rich ecology.


In the context of the American continental mainland, Belize is a small, sparsely populated country but it boasts large untouched forests occupied by a wide array of flora and fauna. Its natural environment twinned to its enthralling Mayan heritage is facilitating a fast-growing tourist industry.


The recognition that without its environment, the tourism 'gold mine' will quickly disappear has forced the authorities in the Central American nation to proactively protect the country's nature assets.


We are told that much of Belize's land mass enjoys protected environmental status. Crucially, the general population - recognising where and how its bread is buttered - has also bought into environmental projects as part and parcel of community tourism.


This happy Belizean story contrasts with the frustrating tendency in Jamaica to take our own environment for granted. The truth is that spoilt by the natural splendour of a land described by the Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus more than 500 years ago as "...the fairest isle... my eyes have ever seen", Jamaicans have been careless and wanton with our physical space.


That carelessness is true not just of farmers who use fire to clear land or charcoal burners who deplete the mangroves but also the authorities who grant building permits without thorough environmental checks and over decades have facilitated mining operations without proper thought to environmental consequences.


Look how often, for example, we hear our politicians speak of Jamaica's vast reserves in mineable limestone without mentioning that much of our remaining natural forests are standing on those very limestone reserves?


The trick of course is to find that balance - like Belize - between the need for man-made development to cater for a rapidly expanding population and protection of our nature assets. Let us not fool ourselves: if we do not protect the natural environment our life-giving tourist industry will die.


It is in that context that we encourage all our readers to turn to yesterday's Career & Education section of the Sunday Observer and an article by Dr Barry Wade, chairman of the 21-year-old environmental consultancy firm Environmental Solutions Limited.


Dr Wade tells of a so far, highly successful wastewater disposal project using a specially constructed wetland of mainly bulrush reeds. The project at Florence Hall, close to Falmouth, Trelawny and adjacent to the Trelawny Multi Purpose Stadium is serving a 170-acre housing project that over time will house 3,000 people.


Dr Wade tell us: "The Florence Hall-constructed wetland system is demonstrating yet again that the best way to solve environmental pollution problems (real or potential) is by incorporating the environment itself into the solution."


From this distance, this newspaper is prepared to wait a while longer before passing judgement on the success or otherwise of this specific wetland project in Trelawny.


But we feel certain that if as a nation we are to find that sweet balance between man-made development and protection of the natural environment, carefully thought out paths such as the one taken by the developers at Florence Hall are the ones we will have to follow.


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