By Rudolph Williams
The last time we heard of the massive contamination of the New River and the stink caused by fish kills was less than a year ago. Well, it’s back!
Last year I wrote and provided evidence that the New River situation is a recurring event whose frequency has increased. I also likened the New River situation to the British economist William Forster Lloyd 1833 theory of the “Tragedy of the Commons”. Lloyd’s theory is that a tragedy occurs when individual stakeholders, who share a common resource follow their own self-interest and take more than is sustainable and leave nothing for anyone. His theory referred to herders who unsustainably grazed a common pasture. The New River’s recurrent contamination is one of Belize’s Tragedy of the Commons. The River is the Common Resource.
When we accept that the New River is a Tragedy of the Commons, we then need to explore corrective measures to restore the river to its original state.
The known solutions to the Tragedy of the Commons include:
1. Collective Responsibility, where ALL individuals come together and collectively limit their impact,
2. Privatization, when private entities own the common resource, they have a direct incentive to maintain its quality, and
3. Government Regulation.
Evaluation of the New River solutions immediately eliminates privatization, and it is obvious that the stakeholders are not willing to exercise collective responsibility. Government Regulation thus stands out as the only viable solution. There is the need to tackle the contamination sources. Monthly monitoring is fine, but knowledge of the severity of contamination is not a corrective nor restorative solution. If we are going to fix the New River, Now is the Time for a Bold Step Forward!
The New River is not improving, it is getting worse. We need to be Tougher! I recommended the Watershed Management approach for the restoration of the New River. The National Integrated Water Resources Act has legal authorities that can put the New River on a restorative path. Using the legal angle gives the restorative effort teeth because penalties can be applied to uncooperative and non-compliant stakeholders.
The Bold and Tougher Step Forward is the establishment of the “New River Restorative Agency” (NRRA), under the legal authority and supervision of the National Integrated Water Resources Authority (NIWRA). The NRRA’s only mandate is to restore the New River’s water quality. ALL New River stakeholders contribute in some form or another to the degradation of the river’s water quality. They will ALL be subject to the NRRA, and based on their relative impact on the water quality, be required to financially contribute to the operations of the Agency.
The NIWRA will be responsible for the preparation of the Terms of Reference of NRRA and to establish milestones, and submit status reports to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Let’s stop pussyfooting around this problem. Let our actions be More Credible and effective. The national impact of the New River contamination on the Environment, Tourism, Human Health, and the GDP can be devastating. There is the possibility of serious bilateral fallout from the discharge of contaminated water into the Corozal Bay and the connected Chetumal Bay.
We have come to the edge of the abyss and now it is time for a bold step forward. There is a political view that the tougher you are, the more credible you are (Ed Balls).
By Rudolph Williams