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Mar 30, 2005

Villagers complain about river water

Story PictureWhile residents of Belize City have been coping with the stench of smoke from the burning municipal garbage dump, those people living the quiet life in the Belizean countryside have not been spared from environmental problem of equal importance. Yesterday News 5′s Jacqueline Woods visited communities along the Sibun River to investigate persistent reports of a river under stress.

Jacqueline Woods, Reporting
Later this week a team comprising personnel from the Department of the Environment and the Public Health Bureau will head out to Freetown Sibun to try and determine what has been contaminating the river that for decades has been the main source of water supply for the villagers. The residents say there are not only algae present in the water but the problem causes their skin to itch and break out in rashes.

Marian Conorquie, Chairperson, Freetown Sibun
?You can?t bathe with this water; we cannot cook with it; we cannot wash with it or we cannot do nothing with it until it runs off.?

DOE says not until they have completed a comprehensive study on the river will they know for certain what is causing the contamination but initial reports suggest it?s the effluent being dumped into the river from a Tilapia farm located further up the river that is causing the problem.

Whilda Murillo, Resident, Freetown Sibun
?Because of the colour, the scent, the kind of algae we see in it and the way how it comes. Some day it will clear and you go sleep at night and when you wake the next day, it?s that and we don?t have flood in dry weather. This is the kind of thing you would see normally when a flood would come down. So it?s from the Tilapia farm.?

There are only a small number of villagers who have vats and have been using whatever rain water that is left but they too have become concerned because they know soon that supply will run dry.

Joseph Obispo, Resident, Freetown Sibun
?Right now we still have a little bit of rain water left. But then because no rain, that?s why we are so concerned because when the rain water is finished then we have to turn to the river and it?s pretty bad right now.?

Marian Conorquie
?It?s green, dirty, it smells so bad, it has a raw smell like stinking mud or something or that sort when its freshly coming down. When they just emptied the fish pond that?s how the water smells.?

Village chairwoman Marian Conorquie says she is looking to meet with other residents to see what they can do to address the problem even if it means a trip to Belmopan to meet with the respective authorities.

Marian Conorquie
?Well we are preparing, I and my neighbours and the rest of villagers, we will go to Belmopan. We have to do something definitely.?

Whilda Murillo
?It?s best for us to come together as a village and discuss what we will plan to do and try get other people and as a reinforcement with us and hear what they will say and then if we don?t get anything done move on to Belmopan because we need to stop this.?

Joseph Obispo
?Well I am very concerned because this is what all villagers live by. We use the water for everything and by this kind of contamination here in the water we can?t really survive with this type of thing. So we are looking forward for the person who is concerned or involved so that they can do something about it so the villagers they won?t suffer in this dry season.?

Until the proper authorities have completed their investigation, the only bit of advice medical people have for villagers who must depend on the river is to boil the water before it is used to cook or drink. Jacqueline Woods for News 5.

News 5 contacted Emile Mena, operator of the Fresh Catch Tilapia farm upstream of the village. Mena noted the importance of water quality to the area’s residents but denied that his operation is in any way responsible for the problems. “Our farm is environmentally well designed and we follow the DOE’s environmental plan”, he said. Mena added that most of his water is recycled and there is nothing in his system that could harm the Sibun River. He has invited us to visit his operation in the near future.

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