Features — 21 July 2018 — by Colin Hyde
Hmm, 2017 households research in Belize (most information taken from 2017 BIS factsheet)

If you are a Belizean elite, during hot weather the air in your room is cooled by an air conditioner. Information from the 2017 Belize Statistical Institute’s (BIS) fact sheet shows that 8.5% of Belizeans have that luxury. Of course, having an air conditioner in one’s home is not a luxury if you are living in the USA or Canada. But, relatively speaking, it is the case in Belize that you are among the elite.

The present prime minister of Belize once opined that he didn’t consider a CEO in his government to be that well off. This was a great surprise to many because a CEO in government is generally considered to be living the life. There are few better remunerated jobs in the public service.

“Wealth” is comparative/ relative, that is, it is not how much you have, it is how much you have compared to what your neighbors have. If you are the only man in town with a bicycle, you’re a wealthy guy. The 1940’s Belizean household that had a radio was on top of the heap. But if that household with the radio considered the world as their neighbor, specifically the USA, that man with the radio would feel like a shoeshine boy.

When I worked at Belfood (Stann Creek Valley) in the mid 1980’s, I asked the farm manager, Mr. Natividad Obando, if he would support an application for me to get a loan to purchase a refrigerator. He said yes, without hesitation. “Colin B,” he said, “in today’s world a refrigerator is a necessity, not a luxury.” The BIS fact sheet says that in 2017, 75% of homes in Belize had a refrigerator.

The IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) estimated electricity coverage in Belize at 90 percent in 2014. A refrigerator being a necessity, to preserve fresh food so we don’t have to live off canned food imported from foreign countries, Belize has a way to go. Refrigerators are GST zero rated in Belize (not taxed), but clearly that does not bring down the cost sufficiently for a few thousand households in the country.

Most households, 91.6%, were equipped with a stove. In urban areas fire hearths are not encouraged, because of smoke pollution. However, no one can stop a barbeque on the weekend. Most stoves in Belize are fuelled by liquid petroleum gas, a fuel that burns very clean. Only people with cash to spare have electric stoves, because they will run up the electricity bill. Kerosene stoves once dominated kitchens in Belize, but they are not that much used now.

Far and away, the best food is prepared on fire hearths. It is natural to think that the stove that put out the best food would be number one in Belize. It is not because Belizean environmentalists put a foot down, to protect the trees, why the best has almost disappeared from the landscape. The cold fact is that those  who usually do the cooking, got liberated.

The washing machine has near absolutely rendered obsolete the old scrub board. It is a reality in Belize that our females do most of the washing. Today, they are doing the washing with a machine. 74.4% of households have one. Ah, now we understand why American softballers come here and dust off our girls, I mean wipe us out.

True, Americans have washing machines too. But they have a lot of facilities to do strength training. No, I am not recommending more scrub boards for Belize. We need to get the facilities and the nutrition to make our females strong enough to compete. 2-1 Belize over USA was no fluke. But we have to do it again.

Not surprisingly, 90.5% of households had a cellphone. They are an important economic tool in this modern world, but the investment in the gadget is staggering. I am not sure of the value of cell phones imported by Belize, but qcostarica.com reports that “between the first semester of 2016 and the same period in 2017 the value [of cell phones] imported into the region (Central America, excluding Belize) grew by 10%, increasing from $537 million to $590 million.” That’s US dollars, by the way.

 qcostarica.com said that “in the region the majority of value imported (cell phones) came from the United States (51%), China (22%), Hong Kong (15%) and Vietnam (8%).”

(atlas.media.mit.edu says that Belize imported $31.2million worth of telephones in 2016, but it didn’t specify the type. Also, with the free zones there might be a re-export factor to consider.)

35.6% of households own a computer/laptop, and 30.8% of households had internet access in 2017. These figures seem low, when you consider students’ need for computers and internet access to keep up with classroom requirements. These numbers mean that 33% of students have a huge advantage over the rest.

Television sets are owned by 78.1% of households in Belize. Belizeans in the 70’s only saw “snow”, no matter how they twisted the rabbit ears, but Belizeans today are seeing the channels in the hundreds. But that improvement is not exponential because most of these channels are dud, just for boobs. Really, it’s mostly space fillers.

Surprisingly, there are less households with radio/stereos, than households with television sets. Only 61.5% of Belizean households reported owning radio/stereos in the 2017 BIS survey. But that doesn’t mean that Belizeans aren’t listening to radio. Many Belizeans spend much of their day in their vehicles, and almost everyone traveling, or at park, is tuned in to Krem and the other local stations.

36.7% of Belizeans own a vehicle. They are the reason why the Belize economy doesn’t collapse. They don’t only transport people to work, and vacation, they use the gasoline and the diesel. atlas.media.mit.edu says that Belize imported $85million worth of refined fuels in 2016. 45% or more of the cost of fuel sold for vehicles goes to the government, in taxes. Almost 20% of our government’s $400 million plus wage bill is paid through taxes taken at the fuel pumps.

If you don’t own a vehicle, it is near 100% that you own a bicycle or a motorbike. 60.6% of Belizeans either ride, or ride. You won’t grow up to be a tub if you ride, or ride. Bicyclists pump the pedals, and motorcyclists have to be at full alert when they’re in the saddle, as they duck and dart till they get to where they’re going. They are not candidates for diabetes. But it is a dangerous life out there for the two-wheelers with all the crazy, uncaring drivers of the four-plus-wheelers hogging the roads.

Other assets of households researched by the BIS include the microwave, which 43% of households have; the dryer, which 10.5% of households have; the dvd player, 39.2%; and the electric generator, 5.6%.

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