Saving the Chiquibul Rainforest Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 01 August 2013 00:00

In Belize City, most do not care about the Chiquibul Forest. City residents don’t understand what all the fuss is about and why the need to protect and preserve that rainforest. Those who do understand the importance of the Chiquibul assembled in Belize City for a symposium on Friday, July 19th. Hon. Lisel Alamilla, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, did not mince words when she told residents of the city why they should be concerned about the sustainability of the Chiquibul. She said, “For the people in Belize City, your water originates from the Chiquibul and it makes and meanders all the way down into Belize City. If we don’t protect the Chiquibul - Belize City you are going to be in problems.”

Water is the source of life and there can be no value placed on the life sustaining substance but there is an estimate on the other natural resources available in the Chiquibul. Percival Cho, Ecologist in the Forest Department, explained, “Material, gold, xate and timber is worth about BZ$2.1 Billion. Every year, because of annual interest through growth, we increase that value by $3 million dollars.” Cho went on to say that as a source of water and other natural wealth the Chiquibul is valued much more than $3.4 billion. There are some who believe he is falling short of a few billion dollars when considering the value of land but everyone concurs that the Chiquibul has significant monetary value.

The Chiquibul continues to be exploited by Guatemalans, who illegally cross into Belizean territory and plunder our resources. The main purpose of the symposium was to get all the major agencies responsible for the preservation of the forest under one roof in an effort to chart a way forward. Representatives of different agencies came forward with a similar message; in the words of Brigadier General David Jones, Commander of the Belize Defense Force, “no single organization can do it alone”.

No formal document has been released by organizers of the Chiquibul Symposium as yet; however, based on the presentations made throughout the day, it is clear that the way forward depends heavily on better collaboration. Wilbur Sabido, Chief Forestry Officer, spoke about better collaboration between agencies directly responsible for protecting the forest. He said, “I think that once we are able to clearly define which entity is responsible for what actions, there has to be some concerted level of effort to carry out these actions.” Others spoke of collaboration between nations. Roan Balas from the Wildlife Conservation Society of Guatemala said, “One thing that is readily evident is that this is a problem that Belize has to tackle immediately but it cannot do so by itself. We need positive engagement on both sides of the border.” Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development, said he was pleasantly surprised that Guatemalan officials want to play a role in addressing the problems at the border. Audrey Wallace, Chief Executive Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, spoke of internationalizing the solution. She said, “We must let the world know that we’re doing everything we can to protect these natural assets but that in the face of sustained and increasing threats - we cannot do it alone.  We must raise international awareness.” She says that Government has held discussions with Great Britain, Guatemala and the Organization of American States and expects that an international conference to raise global awareness will be held in London later this year.