National Environmental Appraisal Committee
C/o Dept. of the Environment
It was with considerable sadness and concern that I read the recent report by The Natural History Museum of London regarding their ten years of data concerning the Macal and Raspaculo Rivers, and the affects of the proposed Chalillo Dam on this area. As a scientist who has been involved in Belize since 1980, helping to set up and protect Cockscomb Basin as the world's first jaguar preserve, I feel I have an obligation to speak to this issue directly. Furthermore, I am currently involved in helping promote and implement the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, which would be adversely affected by this project.
I have followed the various reports and accusations regarding the Chalillo Dam for some time now, and I am puzzled as to why there continues to be strong support within the government of Belize for this project. I am reminded of a similar situation more than 15 years ago when I stood before the Prime Minister of Belize and his cabinet, explaining why an area such as Cockscomb should be protected, pointing out the social, political, and economic benefits that would be gained from such protection. Some of the cabinet members at the time opposed my arguments, because wealthy landowners wanted to clear-cut the Cockscomb Basin, arguing that more money could be acquired by using the land instead of protecting it. They were wrong, as all can now see, and the economic benefits from tourism, clean water, and abundant wildlife populations ended up benefiting everyone in Belize and changing the lives of many Mayan communities, instead of simply putting money into the pockets of a few wealthy individuals. It took a very farsighted Prime Minister and a farsighted majority of the cabinet to try out a scheme that protected Cockscomb. Their decision ended up giving birth to a protected area system and an entire eco-tourism industry that substantially affected the economics of Belize. In fact, there was nothing to lose by such a decision, for if the outcome had been different, then the land would still have been there intact, belonging to the Belizean people.
The issue with the Chalillo Dam is the same as it was with Cockscomb. All the facts point to an incredibly important area IF AND ONLY IF the river systems and the associated wild habitat are left intact. Arguments concerning the benefits of the dam project have clearly been negated by showing that alternative development schemes are possible at less long term cost to the Belizean people and to Belize. Furthermore, what does Belize have to lose if this project is delayed or cancelled because of the numerous questions and issues that have been raised concerning its viability? Nothing! Yet Belize has much to lose by moving ahead with a scheme that can never be reversed if it proves detrimental or does not live up to its claims and expectations. Consider how much revenue, investment, and positive public attention would have lost if the Cockscomb had become simply another citrus plantation or cattle ranch, and if the nature tourism industry had never been developed in the country. This can still happen if Belize is no longer viewed by tourists as a country that works hard at protecting its natural beauty.
My voice is small and can easily be ignored. But I implore you to consider carefully the loss and destruction of a crucial core of natural riparian habitat that would accompany the Chalillo Dam project. You will not only be adversely affecting an important wild area that draws so many visitors to the country, but you will be significantly impacting the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor that has drawn much international funding and attention. This is not an issue of helping people versus saving wild lands. This is an issue of considering long-term alternatives so that the environment and the people of Belize benefit, not simply a few privileged individuals.
I thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.
Alan Rabinowitz, Ph.D.
Director of Science and Exploration
Wildlife Conservation Society, New York