Dr. Kenrick Leslie, Executive Director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, gave a wide ranging address about the impact of climate change and climate variability on Belize at the University of Belize’s graduation ceremony last weekend. Dr. Leslie urged the graduates that by tackling climate change we can reduce or eliminate many of our current problems, including the threat of economic stagnation. He urged the graduates to think broadly and use their newly acquired training and knowledge to support and enhance sustainable development though cooperation and partnership with their community and country irrespective of their chosen field.
Dr. Leslie warned that Belize is experiencing the same types of Climate Change impacts as the rest of the world. However, the Central American country’s low population density make the impact of extreme conditions less pronounced, though more intense and frequent, compared to more densely populated areas.
He cited some noteworthy events that have occurred in unpopulated areas, namely:
1. The coastal community of Monkey River has been experiencing extreme coastal erosion for the last two decades. Residents have observed within their lifetimes the loss of the beachfront where they or their parents held functions such as weddings.
2. Similarly, we have seen serious degradation in our coral reef system due to warmer sea temperatures, mechanical damage from tropical cyclones, and sedimentation caused by more frequent and intense flooding.
3. Coastal aquifers are being compromised by over abstraction and sea level rise. Remedial measures such as the installation of reverse osmosis systems in San Pedro and Caye Caulker have been required. The same has occurred in Placencia where piping water under the lagoon from Big Creek is the method of supply.
4. Abnormally warmer conditions in 1999 and 2000 resulted in a pine bark beetle infestation which destroyed 75% of the pine forests in the country.
5. When the heavy rains returned a few years later the denuded soil was unable to absorb the excess water and led to one of the most devastating floods in the Stann Creek District claiming lives, destroying homes and washing away bridges. A permanent bridge was finally installed last year.
He says these conditions can be exacerbated by the further warming of the atmosphere and oceans, which makes adaptation an imperative for Belize and the Caribbean. Read Dr. Leslie’s January 2013 address at UB Commencement