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Apr 7, 2008

Health officials examine perils of climate change

Story PictureAs a country, Belize has been talking about dealing with climate change for more than a decade, but on the occasion of World Health Day, officials this morning agreed that if we don’t seriously address this global issue, the national impact could be devastating. News Five’s Janelle Chanona reports.

Diane Moore, Environmental Officer, U.N.D.P.
“At the end of the day, for a country like Belize it boils down to adaptation. If you look at how much we contribute in terms of emission, we are less than zero point zero one percent of the world’s emission coming out of the countries such as Belize. However, countries such as Belize are the most vulnerable.”

Janelle Chanona, Reporting
The predictions on how the drastic changes in climate will affect Belize are downright scary. For a low lying country, the last thing you want to hear is that sea levels could rise by as much as three feet and extreme weather conditions like floods and hurricanes could become a regular occurrence.

Early effects like record setting temperatures are already being felt in Belize. For much of March 2003, the barometer hovered around a hundred and four degrees, leading to the country’s first heat related human death and the loss of more than a hundred thousand chickens. But heat waves, droughts and flooding are the direct side effects. Indirectly the drastic changes taking place in our world will affect food and water security, increase the number of cases of vector borne diseases like malaria, dengue and leptospirosis, skin and eye cancers and even affect mental health through depression and trauma. So if all that’s in the future, how does a small country like Belize survive?

Paul Edwards, Manager, Central Health Region
“It is a daunting question because climate change is here.”

An attempt to answer that question took place this morning as experts gathered in Belize City to discuss the theme “Protecting Health from Climate Change” as part of World Health Day 2008 activities. Officials stress that while initial responses may seem costly, inaction will be much more expensive.

Diane Moore
“In terms of agriculture we have to pay keen attention as to the crops we are planting because you do have varieties of crops out there that are better suited for drought conditions. So it’s a matter of first establishing national policies for adaptation to guide what we do on the ground. The mitigation question is a lot easier as to what you and I can because it’s turning off a light and things to that. But in terms of adaptation, adaptation has to be guided by some national effort that indicates this is where we have a problem, these are the little changes that you need to put into place in order for us to get over these hurdles.”

A draft national policy on Adaptation to Climate does exist but it is now a decade old.

Paul Edwards
“I’d want to place that challenge on the new government especially key minister, when we look at the ministers responsible for the environment, agriculture, health and finances to ensure that these policies that were drafted some while ago are now revisited and modified to reflect what is our true reality today and to especially look at implementation of those policies whereby the Climate Change Committee then will be able to receive the reports from the activities to be implemented by the various agencies, both government and N.G.O.s. And that would one of the certain ways to ensure that we are achieving our objectives in mitigating effects of climate change.”

One of the Pan American Health Organization’s mandates is to bolster government’s efforts in confronting issues like climate change. Today PAHO’s Belize office renewed that commitment to Belmopan.

Dr. Beverly Barnett, Country Representative
“It’s mud against the wall; the more you throw, the more will stick and that’s, I think, the principle. Everyone in the Ministry of Health and other sectors all wear multiple hats. We know that especially in a country like Belize where human resources, they are very competent but they have many, many things to do. I think it’s really a case of keep reminding ministries, working with people, keeping it on the front burner so to speak. And eventually things will happen because we can’t expect the ministry or any sector to drop everything else that it has to do to deal with climate change, that’s not realistic. So we simply have to keep at it, keep the advocacy and the awareness going.”

And while those efforts will continue in the corridors of power, on the ground, people like you and I can take simple energy saving measures like turning off unnecessary lights, turning off the water while brushing your teeth, planting a tree or garden and walking or biking every now and then instead of driving everywhere.

Diane Moore
“We’ve not brought the message home and I think that should be the focus within the next couple years; to bring that message home so that people realise that perhaps the droughts or the drying of your well is stemming off something else and not just take things at face value but to see if there is a possibility that it actually is linked to the larger global event. There’s a Caribbean saying that says “one one cocoa full pot”. If we all start to do these little things then as a whole it will have huge impacts.”

Reporting for News Five, I am Janelle Chanona.

To encourage Belizeans to think outside the box, as part of official World Health and Earth Day, high-schoolers are encouraged to submit essays under the theme “Solutions for Climate Change”. Entries must be submitted to Hecopab or PAHO no later than April seventeenth. Winners will be announced on April twenty-second.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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