Headline — 12 February 2013 — by Miriam Longsworth
Belize World Heritage sites “in danger”

A few of Belize’s World Heritage Sites have fallen under the danger radar and a team from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is in the country to assess the sites. UNESCO had given recommendations on how those sites could be improved and now they are back to ensure that the corrective measures are being taken.

“Yes, we have a mission right now. UNESCO works along with the IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] and they have sent two persons to visit us to see if we have taken the corrective actions as [to] how far we have advanced in moving [on] those recommendations that were made,” said Minister of Forestry, Fisheries, and Sustainable Development Hon. Lisel Alamilla.

“But I don’t think that we are in anyway threatened to be delisted. That would be serious. And our property is nowhere compromised at any level for them to even consider delisting it. Where we are right now is that we are in danger, so that means that we have to address some of the challenges of ensuring that the integrity of that World Heritage Site is maintained,” the Minister further said.

OCEANA has been in an ongoing legal battle as it challenges the government on the issue of offshore oil extraction in Belize. If offshore oil drilling should occur in Belize, it could mean possible danger for the barrier reef and marine life.

Commenting on this issue, Minister Alamilla said, “Well, it is my understanding and knowledge that in fact, that the concessions when they expire, they’re not being renewed.”

The Minister added that they have a map which shows that the number of areas that have been granted for exploration through concessions is less than it was before UNESCO’s last visit and report.

Beverly Wade, Fisheries Administrator for the Fisheries Department, told the media that she did not have any comments to make on the issue of offshore exploration licenses or the Production Sharing Agreements that are being revisited. She did say that she agreed that the government has to develop some policy as to how they will approach oil exploration and drilling on a whole, whether on or offshore.

“The bottom line is that Belize is a country with a lot of natural resources and at the end of the day, we must make those natural resources work for the country and for the people,” Wade said.

“And it might even sound philosophical, but I always talk about a balance between development and conservation. They’re not actually at the opposite ends of a stick; they should actually go together. But I think that we need to strengthen our procedures and our processes,” she went on to say.

Wade said that a lot of people come to Belize, gain access to the natural resources and then they try to raise the funds to develop those resources. She believes that things should be different.

“What has been happening a lot is that you get a proposal, you permit these developments to happen, but at the end of the day, these people didn’t really have the backative to really develop these places,” she said.

“A lot of people come to Belize; they gain access to some of these areas and they use that to now try and go and raise funds to develop something, and it should really be the other way around. We should encourage that when these people come here, they are very serious investors, and that we could see the development happen to the end.”

Amandala was unable to obtain an update on the assessment being carried out by the UNESCO team.

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