BELIZE iS A small country in Central America south of Mexico's Yucat√°n Peninsula and east of Guatemala. Its eastern coast faces the Caribbean Sea. Belize is known as a small island developing state because of its low-lying seashore, coastal communities, and open and vulnerable economy. Small island developing states are considered extremely susceptible to the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels.

The small, open economy of Belize has historically been dependent on a narrow range of agricultural exports. Furthermore, it depends on foreign imports for most basic goods, and it relies heavily on a growing tourism sector for foreign exchange earnings to meet its import demand. These economic factors, along with its physio-geographic features, tropical environment, and coastal population centers increase the vulnerability of Belize to the impact of climate change.

Belize is a former British colony (known as British Honduras for most of the 20th century), and became an independent nation in 1973. Given its location, population, and cultural history, Belize is regarded as both a Central American and a Caribbean nation. Belize is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and is the site of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre, which coordinates climate change research and regional responses for the nations of the Caribbean.

The coastline of Belize can be described as low-lying marshland and swampy plains. Tropical hardwood and pine forests in the western interior gradually rise to the forested Maya Mountains in southern Belize. The coral reefs and islands along the Caribbean coastline (known as cayes) form the Belize Barrier Reef. At approximately 200 mi. long, it is the longest reef in the western hemisphere. Tropical cyclones (hurricanes) and flooding regularly threaten human settlements during the rainy season, particularly in coastal areas. With a population of less than 300,000, Belize contributes very little to global greenhouse gas emissions, so its capacity to mitigate the effects of climate change is negligible. In a 2005 survey of residents' attitudes about climate change, nearly half responded that Belize is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and 95 percent felt that Belize is not prepared to handle the impacts due to financial constraints.

Climate change poses five types of risk for Belize. First, a loss of coastal land may result from rising sea levels through erosion and increased flooding. Second, rising sea surface temperatures may increase the frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones, which pose risks to infrastructure and personal property. Third, warmer sea water and ocean acidification are expected to contribute to coral reef bleaching, and an increase in the extent and severity of coral mortality would threaten both the fishing and tourism sectors. Fourth, changes in temperature, rainfall, and sea level may increase the distribution and range of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, which already threaten public health. Finally, rising temperatures, increased salinity, and a shorter growing period may negatively impact the citrus, banana, and sugar cane industries, which already comprise more than half of major exports.

SEE ALSO: Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS); Hurricanes and Typhoons; Oceanic Changes; Sea Level, Rising; Tourism.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. Alliance of Small Island States, www. (cited November 2007); Richard B. Primack, et al., eds., Timber, Tourists, and Temples: Conservation and Development in The Maya Forest of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico (Island Press, 1997).

Robert B. Richardson Michigan State University

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