BELIZE CITY, Mon. Dec. 3, 2018– Belize City Mayor, Bernard Wagner, represented Belize at the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, held in Nairobi, Kenya from November 26 to 28. Mayor Wagner returned home on Friday. The Mayor’s attendance at the conference was made possible through Ismael Quiroz, Executive Director – Economic Development Council, through the Office of the Prime Minister of Belize.
The Blue Economy is a concept designed for coastal cities to maximize the full potential of their waterways so as to allow those cities to meet the sustainable development goals set for 2030, by the proper harnessing of water resources to create employment, industry, innovation, tourism, and protection from natural disasters to counteract the impact of climate change.
Participants in this United Nations Development Program (UNDP)-funded conference included representatives from all UN member states, and among those representatives were Ministers of the Oceans, Seas and Environment; Ministers of Economy; Ministers of Tourism; mayors and governors of ocean/lake-facing cities; reps of regional economic and financial institutions; reps of private sector shipping industries and associations; and reps of United Nations funds, programmes and specialized agencies. Altogether there were 4,000 participants who attended the conference.
Mayor Wagner was a panelist along with Dr. Will McClintock (Spatial Planning), and the governor of Kilifi County, Kenya, Governor Amason Jeffah Kingi, on the subject “The special case for coastal cities.” This segment was moderated by Juan Valle Robles. Mayor Wagner, in his presentation, highlighted the challenges faced by Belize City from the triple threats of climate change, rapid urbanization and globalization.
In an interview with us, Mayor Wagner explained that the Blue Economy Conference that he attended originated out of the Office of the Prime Minister and he was chosen because he represents the largest municipality in the country.
Mayor Wagner explained that the Blue Economy has three components: the first is the sustainable use of the waterways, the second is the effort to drive economic development, and the third is the alleviation of poverty and the effort to reduce the marginalization of people.
Mayor Wagner said that his contribution to the conference was to establish the connectivity of the waterways, and the phenomenon of climate change and its effect on the people who live near the waterways.
“We, as a coastal city, are faced with the rising of the water due to climate change. So you find that people who live in areas such as Krooman Lagoon are affected,” Mayor Wagner said, “As a city we are already living the Blue Economy, because we have marine activities, we have fishing, we have tourism; the question is how can we harness it some more for the benefit of all.”
Mayor Wagner explained that, “We need help to relocate those people living on the Krooman Lagoon, so we can return that area to its natural function, which is for it to act as a natural water catchment. We need help to shore up the shoreline.”
“Krooman Lagoon is a drainage area for that section of the George Price Highway that is right beside it,” Mayor Wagner explained. “It runs for about two miles.”
“We can’t just come in as leaders of the city and don’t do anything about that lagoon. We need to relocate the people from there so it can become a natural habitat, so it becomes a part of our ecosystem again,” Mayor Wagner explained.
In his presentation at the conference, Mayor Wagner said that “we are duty bound to consider the human impact and threats of coastal urban populations, including Belize City, particularly those that contribute to unsustainable urban land development and fishing practices, elevated nutrients and chemical contaminants from marine traffic, sewage outflows and agricultural runoff, which decreases water quality, impacting marine life and fuelling algal bloom.”
Mayor Wagner noted that this has the capacity to destroy the value and benefits of the Blue Economy and more importantly the livelihoods of more than 190,000 Belizeans who live in Belize’s coastal and island communities who earn their livelihoods from tourism and the other 15,000 Belizeans who are directly dependent on fishing.
Mayor Wagner added, “Belize is ranked 8th out of 167 countries by the World Bank for climate risk, and Belize City, with its low elevation and being a city on water, that is, comprised of islands created by the Haulover Creek passing through it, and the transect of several manmade and natural canals and ecological corridors and bounded by the Caribbean Sea into which the Creek flows, will be hit the hardest by the triple threat.”
“We are therefore committed to ensuring the health and integrity of our seas, rivers and coastal ecosystems and canals, for harnessing of the traditional and emerging benefits of the Blue Economy,” Mayor Wagner said.
Mayor Wagner went on to explain that Belize City has embarked on two major Blue Economy initiatives in the south side.
“The first is the Belize City Mangrove Restoration Project in an area dominated by mangrove ecosystems, serving as a catchment area for water from the hinterland, rainfall and the sea,” Mayor Wagner said.
He added that the area is under extreme pressure from squatting by impoverished families who are living without basic public and community services and who are “using garbage for land filling and dumping sewage into the sensitive ecosystems, in their pursuit of living spaces.”
“The aim of this project is to remediate Krooman Lagoon so it can fully perform its drainage and ecosystem service function, while unleashing its economic potential and reducing contaminated outflows to the marine environment,” he said.
“The second initiative is addressing coastal erosion and protecting the traditional use of the Blue Economy — that is shipping, tourism, marine and conservation research, recreation and fishing — while expanding the ambit of its benefits in the landscape,” he went on to say.
Mayor Wagner explained to the conference that the north side of Belize City, “has built up its coastal defenses, reducing the vulnerability of its populations to the impact of more intense storms and sea level rises, and reducing the passage of contaminants into the seas and waterways”
“I am very proud of both of these projects, as not only will they build our resiliency to the impacts of climate change, but they will also translate into enhanced sustainability for the city,’ Mayor Wagner said.
Belize City Mayor described the two projects as “win, win, to build our efforts at harnessing the potential of our Blue Economy for the residents of our fair city on water, connected by river, canals and the sea.”