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Scorching heat and raging floods—the bitter fruits of deforestation

EditorialScorching heat and raging floods—the bitter fruits of deforestation

The Meteorology Department has stated that the hottest day on record in Belize was a sweltering 110 degrees, in Belmopan, in May 1976. The people of Belmopan didn’t need the world’s top scientists to explain that cement houses with zinc roofs and roads surfaced with asphalt in a denuded area would be an oven in the dry season. Led by our first Prime Minister, the people of Belmopan went on a crusade to plant trees, and in time Belmopan earned a new name, the Garden City. It’s still very hot in Belmopan in May, but those who live there can thank the trees that grew up, for that 1976 heat record not being exceeded this year.

Disappointingly, there are people who believe that increasing temperatures is a totally natural occurrence, not in any way a product of human activities. Not all of us can grasp the implications of ice in Antarctica melting at an alarming rate and the ozone depleting; and only few, if any, know what’s in store for us with the earth’s core slowing in relation to the surface, and currents in the Atlantic Ocean becoming sluggish. But we really shouldn’t have to go far in school to understand that the earth minus its trees is no place for us to live. None of us should be blind to what’s happening before our eyes.

The Ministry of Agriculture and the Belize Livestock Producers Association have called on ranchers to put a pause on falling more forest to raise livestock, and instead to work on increasing the productivity of existing pastures. In the past, grazing cattle on unimproved pasture was standard for ranchers. It also enabled them to lay claim to vast acreages of land, a form of land speculation. In the present, knowing what we know now—the tremendous price we pay when we raze forests, that type of farming might be a crime.

Everyone with a plot of land dreams of making a farm. But all land use must be strategic. A nation’s most fertile lands must be harnessed to produce food to feed the nation, and provide the materials of industry. Marginal lands, and fragile fertile lands on steep hills and on the banks of rivers and creeks, must be utilized with the utmost care or left untouched. Poor lands are at their most productive for the nation when they are left in their natural state. You cannot farm a hill without terracing it. Strip cropping is necessary on certain soils and terrains. There must be strict observation of the 10-year cycle in the fallow system.

Everyone who owns a bulldozer is looking to find work for it, and bulldozers are the worst enemies of trees. Fortunately, there are many jobs to improve existing land developments. There are roads to be built, bunds to be made, fields to be plowed, and pathways to be cleared so that drains and irrigation canals can be put in.

The majority of our leaders recognize that we must prevent practices that have a major negative impact on our environment. Unfortunately, knowing the right thing doesn’t always translate to doing the right thing. Chief Engineer Evondale Moody put much of the blame on deforestation for the fiasco on the new Coastal Road, where a massive rush of water overwhelmed the culverts and tore up the highway.

The damage caused by deforestation is obvious, and so is the load of silt in Soldier Creek (and many rivers and creeks) which has to be greater than in previous years because of all the deforestation and wildfires. What isn’t so evident is the damage to our coral reefs. Our poor corals, the excessive heat this year was bad enough, now there’s the added stress of silt, because the soil is bare since the forest was torn down.

We twiddled our thumbs while our country lost its tranquility. We are called to action to preserve our environment. Emphasizing the protection of our forests won’t stop hurricanes and floods and droughts. But the scale of damage is greatly diminished when we treasure our forests.

No sincerity or vigor in this redistricting matter

For more than five years, the Belize Peace Movement (BPM) has been pressing for a redistricting exercise because of significant disparities in the number of electors in some divisions. A number of divisions do not meet the first requirement of the Constitution for our electoral system, which is that “each electoral division shall have as nearly as may be, an equal number of persons eligible to vote.” Observers could not be accused of cynicism if they concluded that the ministry responsible for the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC), which is responsible for redistricting, isn’t eager about the job.

After a delay of more than two and a half years, a proposal for redistricting was finally forwarded by the EBC, and almost a year later this proposal made it to the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, neither the BPM, the main opposition (UDP), nor the ruling party (PUP) find the proposal satisfactory.

Sean P. Trende, an expert hired by Lord Ashcroft, as a “kindness” to Belize, in one of the three maps he presented in his Expert Report in 2020, called for the Cayo District to have “eight divisions while Belize loses four divisions, falling to 9.” In another of his maps he “called for Fort George to extend into a portion of Ambergris Caye.” In fairness to the EBC and the responsible minister, Hon. Henry Usher, redistricting presents its share of difficulties. Commenting on one of his maps, Trende said “it pays little attention to valid considerations other than population equality.” Another requirement of the Constitution is that “in fixing boundaries, regard is to be given to transport, physical features, other facilities of the electoral division.”

Usher has said there is no provision in our Constitution to eliminate a constituency. We have added constituencies since self-government – 18, to 28, to 29, to the present 31. An argument, maybe of questionable merit, might be made that there has been no move thus far to correct this obvious flaw in our Constitution, because presently that is under review. No one would approve losing four constituencies in the Belize District, but the district losing a constituency, or two, is not farfetched.

“Henry” let a hole in the bucket prevent him from fetching water. If this “hole” in the Constitution had been patched a long time ago, from the time Trende presented his report, it would have helped the EBC to produce a timely, and more reasonable, proposal than the one which all reports say is destined to receive a resounding “nay” when the matter is put to a vote in the House of Representatives.

We are not alone in our imperfection. Fair Vote says that in 2008 the average number of people per Electoral Vote in the US was 565,166, but the state of Wyoming, which has 3 Electoral Votes, had only 532,668 citizens, which translates to 177,556 people per Electoral Vote. Consequently, people in Wyoming had “3.18 times as much clout in the Electoral College as an average American.”

UK Parliament said, “On average, there were 71,631 people registered to vote in parliamentary elections in UK constituencies in December 2021. However, this figure hides big differences between constituencies. The smallest constituency, Na h-Eileanan An Iar, had 21,304 voters, while the biggest, Isle of Wight, had 109,246.” A BBC report on the UK’s 2019 election showed that 25 parties contested, and 16 of them got ZERO seats.

It’s not an easy job, redistricting. What the people expect is that the exercise will be approached with sincerity, and carried out vigorously. Thus far, that has not been the case.

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