Features — 07 September 2019 — by Wilfrido Novelo
The New River is comatose

Our once very beautiful New River in Orange Walk Town is on its death-bed, barely clinging to life at the Environmental Hospital of Belize. Mortally wounded mostly by the activities of BSI/ASR, the New River is on life support. The putrid smell of her bedsores and the overpowering stench of death can be smelled for miles away.

Dr. Government of Belize and Nurse Department of the Environment know exactly what has happened, but seem to be pretty much unconcerned, or unable to restore her to her health.

The spokesman for the Environmental Hospital of Belize, in a press conference, has tried to water away blame from the main culprit, saying that damage to the New River is due to agricultural runoffs (fertilizers and pesticides) from farming activities near to the river, and industrial activities (one rum distillery, a nearby tortilla factory and a logging operation).

He also suggested that the town’s estimated 20,000 inhabitants are to blame for polluting the river with effluents from dish washing, bathing water, and possibly, septic tanks. If anybody believes this, they will believe that the moon is made of cheese!

The New River is in desperate need of a blood transfusion (pure fresh water) and oxygen to prevent her lungs from collapsing, which would lead to her death. She is paralyzed all over her body. The organs that once indicated the good state of her health are dying at a rapid pace: her fishes, water fowls, crocodiles, turtles, manatees, river birds, iguanas, river otters (water dogs), to name some of the wildlife that depend on the New River for their livelihood and sustenance.
Even dolphins that do enter the brackish waters of the New River by Corozal Bay on the Caribbean Sea to hunt for food will be negatively impacted. The few river dwellers that may survive their prolonged ordeal in the acidic poisoned waters of the New River will surely go blind.

Government can assist in saving the New River

History has proven once and again that the New River is a very resilient river. It has been polluted in the past and it has rebounded to regain its health again. The Government of Belize needs to do more and be more proactive in defending/saving the New River.

The Environmental Protection Act needs to be strengthened; as is, it’s a paper tiger without teeth. In its public awareness campaign, the DOE can fine you $500 for dumping garbage at an unapproved location, BUT WHAT ABOUT POLLUTING AN ENTIRE RIVER SYSTEM?

If common citizens — you and I — can be fined $500, then a corporate transnational like BSI/ASR should be fined millions of dollars for destroying a unique ecosystem like the New River.

I visited the New River and was saddened by what I saw. Even apple snails are dead. The apple snail is the primary food source of the Snail Kite Hawk (known in Florida as Everglades Kite, but becoming extinct). This hawk has a very graceful glide in the air when hunting for snails to eat. After it eats, he laughs, “hahahaha”.

GOB can, and must do better. As the government and the warrant holder of law and order in Belize, GOB has an arsenal of legal resources to right the wrongs in Belizean society. All it requires is the political will to do so.

Government has at its disposal the instruments of coercion: the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Procurators Office, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the courts, the prisons, the police, the army, to name a few.

New grinding season is four months away

Traditionally, the sugar cane grinding season begins in northern Belize in the month of December, some weeks before Christmas. As it is, without any recovery in sight, and unable to recover, the New River is in for another sustained environmental battering that will surely kill her.

BSI/ASR surely feels untouchable, because they know that sugar exports are Belize’s main source of foreign exchange earnings, and that the sugar factory at Tower Hill is the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Is there any hope for the New River? If the current drought caused by climate change persists, and climate change is real, and the rains typical of past rainy seasons do not arrive on time, the New River is in a very serious predicament.

On Saturday evening, August 31, 2019, at about 6:30 p.m., a welcome downpour that lasted about three hours rained down on Orange Walk. As short as it was, it cleaned about a mile of the river in the Guinea Grass/Shipyard area of the New River.

A small tropical storm would go a long way in helping the river in recovering its health. (If seeding of the clouds could be artfully done for rains to fall over Orange Walk that would be good news for our New River).

If Dr. Government of Belize and Nurse Department of the Environment are unable to restore the health of the New River and it dies, the Forensic Pathologists Report could read something like “CAUSE OF DEATH: eutrophication due to over-consumption of dead riverine resources. Intestine was loaded with millions of dead fish, carcasses of crocodiles, turtles, iguanas, manatees, dolphins and other unidentified animal species”.

The New River has been the victim not only of an environmental disaster; it is an ecological tragedy. Saving the New River should be paramount for government, the Belizean people and the world. By saving the New River we will be saving our Great Barrier Reef, UNESCO’s Submarine Wonder of the World, Heritage of Humanity and of Belize.

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