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Letter: An issue of critical importance to the people of Dangriga in southern Belize
Published on December 5, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

The article by Mr Wellington Ramos addresses an issue of critical importance to the people of Dangriga, in southern Belize, and those in surrounding communities that depend on the North Stann Creek River watershed for their sustenance. Thanks very much for bringing this issue to the fore.

Water IS life. Any pollution of that vital resource affects the health of the people and indeed other life. It is unfortunate that several companies in Belize are not held to rigorous standards with strict monitoring to protect our water sources. Within the past few years, for example, Belizeans have seen incidents of the floating of hundreds of dead fish in the New River near the sugar factory.

The level of pollution noted in Dangriga is alarming and the citizens must be immediately alerted. The town council, village councils, area representatives, health and environmental authorities as well as the citizens must immediately act to ensure that this situation is corrected. Certainly we wouldn't want to see illness and death before corrective and preventive measures are taken.

Coincidentally, I am also learning about a similar situation affecting the Macal River that runs through the twin towns of Santa Elena and San Ignacio in the Cayo District. A few days ago, I received a report from a scientist who had recently done some testing of the water quality and levels of mercury in that river. The study is also great cause for alarm and urgent action. The data show very high levels of mercury in the fish population and dangerous levels of contamination of fecal coliform bacteria in the water.

These test results indicate that there should be warnings or "alerts" issued to advise people not to drink the water in that river nor should they bathe or wash in it, and not to eat the various species of fish that communities along the river traditionally consume.

Fecal coliform is the bacteria from human and animal feces. The river's contamination with fecal coliform bacteria poses serious risks for diseases such as typhoid fever, viral and bacterial gastroenteritis and hepatitis A.

The high levels of mercury in the fish population in the Macal River also pose a serious health risk to the people in the area. Eating fish with high levels of mercury can affect the brain or kidneys. The symptoms of mercury poisoning also include disturbances in vision or hearing or memory problems. When a pregnant woman consumes too much mercury through fish, the mercury can cross the placenta and affect the brain development of her unborn child.

What is most alarming is that no warning has been issued by the health and environmental authorities. Neither has the public been informed about these dangers and risks. Somehow the report showing these test results was merely sitting on a shelf of careless authorities for months.

Hopefully your sharing information about the river in Dangriga, will not be ignored. For the health of all, for the good of the people, the information has to get out and action must be taken. Thanks again for raising the alarm.

Colleagues of mine from BELPO (Belize Institute for Environmental Law and Policy) are planning to widely disseminate this other recent information about the Macal River to ensure that appropriate mitigation and protective measures are taken.

Jerry A. Enriquez
Development Consultant
Belize City, Belize
 
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