Why a Building Urban Resilience to Climate Change Programme in Belize?

floodingThe convergence of urbanization and climate change is the most significant challenge confronting Belize today, and if not planned for and managed sustainably, can increase the exposure and vulnerability of already vulnerable populations, ecosystems, buildings and infrastructure to the impacts of climate change and climate variability, intensifying urban poverty, destroying urban cultural heritage, and compromising Belize’s social and economic development progress and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global effort to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.

According to UN-HABITAT, no urban area can be placed on a long-term sustainable development path without first considering and building resilience to the impacts of climate change, for if it does not, today’s development gains may be wiped out tomorrow.

The Background of Building Urban Resilience to Climate Change Programme in Belize

Urban communities in Belize are confronted with many challenges. While there are many successful and well laid out areas, there are large segments of their populations that are living in poverty;[i] Building stock and infrastructure are deteriorating; Health and educational facilities are bursting at their seams; and in many areas, electricity, water supply, sanitation and green spaces are either non- existent or inadequate;

This has manifested in insecure land tenure and squatter settlements; urban blight and decay, the lost of urban cultural heritage, gentrification and marginalization of vulnerable population; the increase in non-communicable diseases; and rising crime and homelessness, inefficient property markets and incompatible land use, traffic congestion, pollution and environmental degradation, to name a few.

[i] According to the Government of Belize (2010) Belize Country Poverty Assessment Report 2010, 43% of the population is poor, with 14% vulnerable to becoming poor

While Belize 2010 Census depicts a rural to urban population of 54.8% or 176,624 to 45.2% or 145,829, a trend which is projected to continue, it masks the existential urbanization to the premier urban center, Belize City with 1/4 the national population, San Pedro Town, considered the tourism capital of Belize, and Santa Elena and San Ignacio Town, the administrative center of the fastest growing district, Cayo.

It also masks the rise of intermediate settlements, categorized as rural settlements, but acquiring or having acquired urban forms and functions, and in some instances, with populations surpassing that of towns. This represents 10-15 % of 192 villages and communities listed in the 2010 census, and manifests in a more realistic 55-60% to 40-45% urban to rural population.

To add to this scenario, Belize is highly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change and climate vulnerability, that is, sea level rises, more intense storms and flooding, due to its low lying coastline, numerous small islands, second longest barrier reef, extensive forest cover and vegetation and geographic location in the hurricane belt.

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This vulnerability is further increased as a result of several factors, including:

Firstly, 40.3% of the population resides in communities located in the coastal areas[i], and more than 30% of the interior communities are located on or near flood plains;

Secondly, the functionality of and the threshold population served by these communities, particularly those serving the agricultural and tourism sectors upon which Belize’s economy is dependent, as reflected in contributions of 13.4% and 61.5 % respectively of GDP;[ii]

Finally, unplanned and unregulated urban development and the centralized, archaic, fragmented and weak policy, legislative and institutional capacity for municipal governance and sustainable urban planning and management;

[i] World Bank (2010) Disaster Risk Management in Latin America and the Caribbean Region-GFDR Country Notes

[ii] http://www.cdn.gov.bz/belize.gov.bz/files-speech-2015.pdf

Building Urban Resilience to Climate Change in Belize

SDG 10-Reduced Inequalities

SDG11-‘Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’

SDG 13-‘Climate Action’

BAP is a strong champion and advocate of the SDGs, particularly SDGs 10, 11 and 13, and contends that if Belize is to achieve these goals, it is crucial that it builds the resilience of people and communities, ecosystems, buildings and infrastructure and strengthen the capacity of its institutions to plan for, mitigate and manage the impacts of climate change and climate variability, while at the same time addressing the broader urban development challenges.

This requires urban planning and development policies, approaches and actions that:

  • Reduce vulnerability to natural disasters by addressing key causes of climate change and climate variability, and by carefully planning and managing settlements so that fewer people are vulnerable to natural calamities;
  • Create environmentally-friendly communities that support environmentally-friendly forms of transport and sustainable building, and conserve environmental and cultural assets for efficiency and more economical city forms;
  • Reduce the formation of new ‘squatter’ settlement by ensuring an adequate supply of appropriately located land sourced from what is unoccupied and underdeveloped;
  • Builds sustainable economic growth in both urban and rural areas to tackle urban and rural poverty and rural – urban migration;
  • Reduces crime and violence and build safe communities through designs that provide for safe neighbourhoods and a framework for different interests to work together in a common purpose and a transparent and accountable arena;
  • Harvest Civic Capital and People Participation to foster a climate of civic ownership, personal responsibility and for people to participate in the decision making process.

However, these concepts and their interdependent relationships are not sufficiently recognized, effectively promoted or fully understood by the media, average citizen, legislators or decision makers, and if they are unaware and uninformed, they are unlikely to appreciate the need for, and the benefits and opportunities of their application in building urban resilience to climate change and climate variability while at the same time addressing the broader urban development challenges, or to participate in any action or exert any pressure for its application.

The Goals of the Building Urban Resilience to Climate Change Programme are:

  • To heighten awareness of the convergence of urbanization and climate change in Belize, its impacts and attendant challenges and opportunities, and the implications to quality of life issues, with an emphasis on urban poverty;
  • To enhance the knowledge base of decision makers, drivers, influential actors and vulnerable populations of urban communities of the importance and relevance of climate smart urban planning and urban development policy to building urban resilience to climate change and climate variability in Belize;
  • To build public support for the role of planners and climate smart urban planning principles and approaches in bringing about SDGS 10, 11 and 13.
  • To strengthen urban planning and development policy, legislative and institutional frameworks and individual capacity to enable the achievement of SDGS 10, 11 and 13.

This programme will be implemented over the course of 48 months (2016-2020) through research, awareness building, advocacy, capacity building and training, participatory community based climate smart plan development and implementation of climate resilient urban projects.

Linkages to National, Regional and Global Development Goals and Targets;

  1. Horizon 2030- the National Development Plan of Belize
  2. CARICOM Framework for Achieving Development Resilient to Climate Change 2011-2021
  3. Sustainable Development Goals
  4. Habitat III Agenda
  5. World Bank Global Target to Eradicate Extreme Poverty by 2030

Status: This Programme has several projects in the planning and donor funding support request stages, some of which are accessible from this menu. If you are interested in partnering with us on this programme, email us at carolyn.trench@belizeplanners.org or belizeplanners@gmail.com