Dr David J. Keeling, Distinguished University Professor of Geography at Western Kentucky University, says “Climate change impacts, both long-term and short-term, are likely to have serious repercussions for Belizean communities without a detailed and comprehensive management plan for accessibility and mobility”. Peruse his exclusive contribution to Caribbean Climate.
Links between climate change and transportation may not seem obvious at first glance, especially when considering the broader social and economic impacts of weather shifts over time and space. The short-term effects of climate events such as tornadoes, hurricanes, tidal surges, or flash floods capture the attention of the media, emergency personnel, and these populations affected primarily because of the immediate humanitarian considerations. People need rescuing, emergency shelters must be provided, potable water and food are needed, and emergency services are charged with helping the devastated communities to recover. Without transportation infrastructure, and without the means to provide accessibility to, and mobility within, the affected areas, tragedy would be compounded. Roads especially are critical to this recovery effort, particularly in poorer regions of a country or in more isolated rural areas, because often this is the only basic infrastructure available to connect people to the outside world.
A longer view of climate change impacts on people and places requires governments and societies to think about transportation in different ways. Of course, we understand intuitively that transport improvements are critical to socio-economic growth and wellbeing, but this does not necessarily translate into concrete policy in many parts of the world, especially Latin America. In Brazil, for example, Latin America’s most robust economy and most populated country, less than 10 percent of the country’s roads are paved, compared to nearly 60 percent in China or 99 percent in Thailand. In smaller countries such as Belize that have fewer available resources, the transportation challenges are more critical and immediate. Climate change impacts, both long-term and short-term, are likely to have serious repercussions for Belizean communities without a detailed and comprehensive management plan for accessibility and mobility.
Less than 20 percent of Belize’s roads are paved, many are two-laned only, some are washboard-dirt in composition, and often patched with gravel or sand. Many Belizean communities are located quite far from major highway access points, and could be viewed as much more susceptible or vulnerable to coastal changes than larger towns and cities. Regional plans for infrastructural improvements under the auspices of the Plan Puebla-Panamá include the Guatemala-Yucatán Axis that aims to improve economic integration and mobility along the Caribbean coast. However, little progress has been made to date, in part because of regional geopolitical differences. Yet local planning for long-term climate change impacts, such as rising sea levels, more intense rainfall, or other climatic shifts, needs to be harmonized with transportation infrastructure challenges in mind. Belize needs to have a comprehensive, forward-looking management plan that anticipates the relationship between climate change, accessibility, and mobility. This is especially critical for the tourism industry and for agriculture, forestry, and other primary economic activities.
As climates change, so too do economic opportunities and potentials. In short, Belize is vulnerable to the long-term impacts of climate change in myriad ways. It needs, therefore, a proactive, integrative set of management goals that recognize how transportation infrastructure is inextricably intertwined with socio-economic goals and strategies. Even a small country like Belize can have big ideas and policies that can set the standard for how to manage future climate change.