By Senator Elizabeth Bennett
“Noting that the global spread of COVID-19 this year has sparked ‘the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two’, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) David Beasley pointed to deepening crises, more frequent natural disasters and changing weather patterns, saying “we’re already facing a perfect storm”. I open this article with a heavy heart as I think about our beloved country, Belize, and the storms that lies ahead of us as a nation.
As a people, we have to be smart to navigate this existing deadly COVID-19 storm that has now registered a rocking 500 plus cases in little more than a week. Then there is also the probability of terrible hurricanes that might hit our shores, and certainly the challenge of food scarcity. The United Nations had sounded the alarm since April of this year right on the heels of COVID-19. So how can we really prepare for all these major life stressors in the context of the troubled almost non-existing social aid system?
What we should have seen established, even if it just March of this year, from all the loans borrowed over the past six months, are the following five (5) governmental initiatives that would have been for the benefit of the people in this time of pending food insecurity:
- SELF-SUFFICIENT ENTREPRENEURIAL PROGRAM– Government should have implemented creative programs for families from the Pantry and Boost programs to transition – where possible – the young and strong especially – into a state of self-dependence. GOB should have started by providing needed families with food, but then slowly identify solutions to empower families to be self-sufficient by evaluating the programs. This is important, because self-sufficiency allows for a certain food income because relying on donations on a long term basis does not always guarantee a fresh healthy supply of food nor does it guarantee that a family will always be on the pantry list.
- BIRTH CONTROL PROGRAM– In looking back to March and looking ahead to when a COVID-19 vaccine is birthed, many babies will be born December of this year and into the first quarter of next year. Many online psychological journal articles are speaking to the natural ways to relieve stress and one of the activities high on the list is sexual intercourse.
The bread winner child-bearing age groups are out of a job and stuck at home so relieving stress thru sex become a main stream activity and at times for the poor with no access to birth-control methods which will result in a baby boom effect. Many people are not educated on reproduction or do not have access to contraceptives. MOH needs to act swiftly to increase nation-wide access to contraceptives which will allow for family planning and economic freedom in the future whatever the days ahead have in store.
- ACCESS TO ELECTRONIC EDUCATION – I recall reading a very interesting article on Facebook from a Belizean educator Assistant Professor Alberto Luis August, a former colleague in the then University of Belize Faculty and Staff Association (UBFSA), now working in Malaysia; in which he clearly outlines how if only GOB took $2M from that phase 2 Caracol Road project that EVERY single student AND teacher in Belize could get a laptop and still had money to pay for teachers to get training from the $2M!
Education is the best weapon against poverty and hunger. It is especially powerful in underdeveloped countries like our beloved country Belize. Education means better opportunity and more access to income and food. Sadly, even though Belize has food-for-education programs where primary school students are given free food for coming to school, it does not happen throughout the country nor at the high school level.
- URBAN FARMING –“Almost one-quarter of undernourished people live in an urban environment. Recently, there has been a big push for urban farming. Urban farming empowers families to gain control over their own food source.” Zachary Patterson. I am certain, if we were conducting research in our urban communities, this statement would apply to Belize as well.
- COMMUNITY GARDENS –If we had access to grants to develop community gardens in every single community in Belize, we would not be experiencing the crime and violence we are presently experiencing today. Food insecurity is characterized by households in which one or more members do not have adequate access to essential nutrients due to a lack of money. With the high unemployment before and now due to COVID-19, this initiative would be very helpful in meeting a community’s nutritional needs. If food insecurity is a real issue in a developed country like Canada, then it is also very, very real in Belize.
By starting a sustainable gardening program in our community, we hinder the existence of, or potential for, food insecurity in our direct area. In addition, a community garden would provide our youths with an alternative, beyond nutrition. Hours spent tilling the soil compared to hours on Facebook or watching TV, provides physical activities and establishes an expectation for what they will reap. In addition, a sense of community is created through a community garden project.
My solemn advice to each community leader is to galvanize and start a community garden and watch how your community will transform beautifully before your eyes. DO NOT wait on GOB, as they continue to fail us in so many ways! Make your own paddle for the storms ahead!