By Wellington C. Ramos
It has been brought to my attention by a Garifuna environmental activist that the North Stann Creek River, which flows into Dangriga Town, has been polluted and contaminated with several toxic and chemical substances for years now. He has been conducting testing of human beings, plants and animals for some years now. The results show catastrophic effects on all of them including land erosions along the river bank and the beach in Dangriga Town.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
His investigation revealed that for years now the citrus companies in Pomona Valley and Alta Vista “Salada Company” have been dumping their chemical waste from their factories into this river. Plus, there are companies doing several types of mining along the side of the river. Citrus farmers use several types of pesticides, which flow into the river when it rains as well. Then we have people dumping garbage and human waste into the river.
All these factors have led to the water to be unfit for human consumption.
In Dangriga Town around the 1960s a water system was built three miles away, which is now part of the town. This plant extracted the water from the North Stann Creek River and then sent it to the reservoir, which was built on Logan Field in the heart of the town, to be distributed to the residents. Dangriga Town is about 12 miles east of Pomona Valley and about 14 miles from Alta Vista villages. Anything dumped into the river will definitely go into the water that the people of Dangriga Town have been using for years now from three miles up the river.
The company that owned the citrus company from its inception was Citrus Company of British Honduras (CCBH) established in 1913 and one of their managers was the late Mr Frank Sharpe. While the company that owned the citrus company in Alta Vista formed in 1963 was Salada Products with Denzel Jenkins as their manager. After Mr Frank Sharpe died, his son Jerry Sharpe became the manager but the company was sold to a group of citrus growers and investors and the name was changed to its current name Citrus Company of Belize Ltd after the two companies merged together.
In Belize there is a company that was owned by government, namely, Water and Sewage Authority (WASA), which was privatized in 2001 and the name is now Belize Water Services Ltd, which is responsible for supplying water to all the citizens of Belize. Every home has a meter to read the amount of water they use and a monthly bill is sent to them to pay. It is the responsibility of this company to ensure that the citizens of Dangriga Town and Belize be given clean water for their consumption and usage. This water is supposed to be tested by them from time to time before distributing it to the customers. It is disgusting to find out that for all these years our people were paying this company to drink and use polluted and contaminated water that is hazardous to their health.
I now call on all the citizens of Dangriga Town and Belize to demand that that the water be tested by a private company. If it is confirmed that the water is unsafe, then we must make the following demands: that the citrus companies, the mining companies, the citizens of Stann Creek District and all the polluters cease and desist from throwing or dumping their waste into the river; that the chemicals and pesticides that are currently being used by these companies be checked to see if the river contains them. Also, that water given to the people of Dangriga Town be given from wells or we explore the possibilities of getting it from the South Stann Creek River next to Kendall or Sittee villages.
If we take these actions now, we can stop our people from dying from several diseases, get to drink fresh and clean water, stop the erosions of our land, beaches, eat healthy plants, animals, get to bathe in the river again and save our environment. I remember when I was a child growing up in Dangriga Town, all the families use to go and bathe at the mouth of the river on Saturdays and Sundays. Today, if you go to Dangriga Town you will not see that again. The fish that were living in the river have died out and become extinct over time due to these hazardous materials that are being dumped into the river.
Belize has a Department of the Environment but I have not heard of any serious enforcement that they have done to bring forward legal action against any company for polluting the rivers and other areas in the country.
When I was a police officer living and working in Orange Walk Town, a child drowned by the ferry that runs across the New River leading to San Estevan Village. After diving in the river looking for this child, my skin was white and had scales on it like a fish. This river is also polluted due to the chemicals that have been dumped into it over the years by the sugar factory owned by the Tate & Lyle Company in Tower Hill where their factory is located.
I am almost certain that there is more pollution all over the country of Belize that has not been brought to the public’s attention. The government of Belize, the World Health Organization and all environmental groups throughout the world are hereby asked to assist us with this life and death issue in Dangriga Town, Stann Creek District, Belize.