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Belize Water & Sanitation Sector Analysis
Draft final report
Plan Regional de Inversiones en Ambiente y Salud.
Serie Análisis No. 1
Part 2

2. Institutional and Legal Aspects
2.1 Institutions in the Sector

2.1.1 Public Sector Institutions

In Belize, responsibility for management and provision of water and sanitation services at the sectoral level is shared by various government ministries and departments. The ministries directly involved are: Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Tourism and Environment, and most recently, Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, and Transport. In addition, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Ministry of Works, and the Ministry of Housing are indirectly involved. Because many ministries and departments are involved, there is an overlap in responsibilities and there is a need to clarify which entity should lead in the execution of these responsibilities. Annex 1 presents a table of the responsibilities of the ministries and their departments in the water resources sector and illustrates the gaps where it is unclear who is responsible. A discussion of the departments of the ministries involved, follows:

Ministry of Natural Resources

Before January 1995, the Ministry of Natural Resources was responsible for the activities of one quasi-governmental institution and two departments directly involved in the management and supply of water. These are:

The National Hydrological Service is now a department of the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, and Transport. The Ministry of Natural Resources is also responsible for coordinating the activities of the Land Utilization Authority - a discussion on the Land Utilization Authority will be presented later in the section on Intersectoral Coordination.

Water and Sewerage Authority

The Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), a quasi-governmental institution, was established by the Water and Sewerage Ordinance, Chap. 185 of 1971. Under the Water and Sewerage Act, water supply and sewerage services are regulated by WASA. WASA performs water supply functions within water supply areas so declared by order of the Minister of Natural Resources. Such declaration entails the vesting in WASA of all land and property rights related to the facilities, liabilities, and obligations relating to water supply and sewage disposal, and the exclusivity to supply such service. No person or entity other than WASA may carry out water supply functions within water supply areas without WASA's authorization. Up to date, only one company (Seatec) has been authorized by WASA to act as a water "purveyor" to carry out desalination of water for San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.

WASA is solely responsible in any area of water supply for maintaining and developing the waterworks, altering existing waterworks, constructing new waterworks, increasing or improving the water supply, and for administering the supply of water thereby established. Furthermore, the authority is responsible for promoting the proper use of water resources and the provision of water supplies in the country. The authority is also responsible in any sewage disposal area for maintaining and developing the existing sewerage system and related property, for constructing and developing such other sewerage works as it considers necessary or expedient, for administering the sewerage system so established, and for providing sewerage services. It is assumed that the sewerage system and sewerage works is also taken to include any works for the treatment and disposal of sewage.

All land and other property of any kind within areas of water supply, or sewage disposal, vested or deemed to be vested in any municipal or other public body, in respect of the supply of water within a supply area, or the disposal of effluent within a sewerage area, is vested in WASA. The entity has a total of 241 employees. The main office is in the New WASA Building on Central American Boulevard, near the Belcan Bridge in Belize City. Suboffices with technical and administrative staff are maintained in each of the districts. The entity consists of nine members, called Water Commissioners, who hold the appointment for a period not exceeding two years, but who may be reappointed. The chair and six of the members are appointed by the Minister of Natural Resources, one member is appointed by the Minister of Finance and one by the Minister of Local Government. Meetings are held at least once a quarter and at other times deemed necessary. The chief executive officer, chief engineer, and financial controller attend the meetings as advisors and have no vote. Five commissioners, one of whom acts as the Chair or Deputy Chair, shall form a quorum. The entity may appoint committees to examine and report to it on any matters connected with its powers and duties.

The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Programme

The department implementing the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Programme initially set up within the Ministry of Health, was transferred to the Ministry of Natural Resources in 1987. The mandate of the program is to provide potable water and sanitation services to all rural communities in Belize. In some communities, potable water is provided through strategically located hand pumps, while in others, rudimentary water systems are used to deliver water to the households. The aim is to achieve coverage to World Health standards by the year 2000. WASA provides significant technical support to the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Programme. The strategy consists of providing piped water to communities with populations of more than 250 people. As a result, new rudimentary water systems are continually being established under WASA's supervision.

The department is headed by a program manager who, through the chief executive officer of WASA, reports to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources. The key posts below the program manager are chief of operations (in charge of the well drilling crews), health educator, and district coordinators. The department operates from the main office at Ladyville. It has a recurrent budget from the Ministry of Natural Resources to cover permanent established staff, accommodation, and office expenses. A capital budget is also provided by the Ministry of Natural Resources as the government counterpart fund to match the contributions from donor agencies. The government portion covers items such as salaries, spare parts, vehicles, while the donor contribution is used for the provision of materials and equipment, such as tanks and pumps. Over the last year and a half, there have been significant reductions in donor support for water and sanitation programs, including RWSSP.

Ministry of Tourism and Environment

The Ministry of Tourism and Environment is responsible for the activities of four departments, but only one, the Department of the Environment, is directly involved in the water resources sector.

Department of the Environment

The Department of the Environment was created in 1989 and legally established by the Environmental Protection Act of 1992. It is headed by a chief environmental officer and is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Environmental Protection Act and the regulations made under it, and for taking necessary action to enforce its provisions. The act provides for the appointment by the Public Service Commission of environment officers, inspectors, and other staff necessary to carry out the provisions of the act and any regulations made under it. The act specifies 27 areas of responsibility under the heading of powers, duties, and functions of the department. Those related to various aspects of water resources management are described below:

Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health is undergoing significant reform. The Health Sector Reform Project, a three-year activity funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is being implemented. The National Health Plan for the period 1996 - 2000 supported by PAHO/WHO was completed in 1995 and its implementation was begun shortly thereafter. Between these two activities, significant change in the management approach of the Ministry of Health is expected. Presently, the Public Health Bureau and HECOPAB are the departments within the Ministry of Health that are directly involved in the water and sanitation sector.

Public Health Bureau

The Public Health Ordinance, Chapter 31, and its amendment of 1985 give the Ministry of Health, through the Public Health Bureau, the regulatory powers for various health related concerns. These include:

The Department is headed by a Principal Public Health Inspector to whom a sanitary engineer and a water analyst report. Under the Senior Public Health Inspectors are the Public Health Inspectors (nine for Belize City and seven for the Districts). The Public Health Inspectors are involved in monitoring all aspects affecting environmental health, not just those related to the water environment. Usually, they operate from offices located at the local hospitals. The Water Quality Laboratory is located above the Central Medical Laboratory adjacent to the offices of the Public Health Bureau and close to the new hospital currently under construction. The laboratory is also used by the Fisheries Department to process their samples.

Health Education and Community Participation Bureau

HECOPAB is a small unit consisting of five core staff: the director, two senior health educators, a visual artist, and a secretary. Five U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers were recently attached to the unit and will be based in the district offices to support regional activities. The unit has a small budget of BZ$ 10,000 from the Ministry of Health for general health education and material development and a budget of BZ$ 116,000 for recurrent expenditures. Primary funding for programming is being provided by UNICEF under a one-year grant to support training and health education. These funds are intended to support social mobilization, health education, and community participation activities within the program. As part of the community-based strategy, HECOPAB intends to reorient its health education strategy to incorporate the behavioral approach accepted internationally as standard within hygiene education for water and sanitation projects. Using this framework, HECOPAB is developing district and community capacities to identify those health practices of villages which put them at risk for contracting diseases and to develop and effectively communicate relevant hygiene messages aimed at changing risk behaviors and practices. Within the Ministry of Health, health education is also provided by the Office for Primary Health Care.

Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries

Agriculture Department: The precise role of the department has been difficult to ascertain since much of the initiative on agricultural matters lie in the private sector. The department has three divisions: extension, research, and projects. It is involved in encouraging the development of agriculture and agro-processing throughout Belize, in promoting the safe and efficient use of agrochemicals, particularly through the Pesticide Control Board, and in protecting the viability of the agriculture industry in a sustainable manner. It operates the Belize College of Agriculture at Central Farm which, in addition to education and training, is involved with agricultural research. There is no stated position regarding the use of water for irrigation purposes, though discussions are underway with the Natural Resources Management and Protection Project (NARMAP) to support the development of an irrigation strategy. In terms of agrochemical use, the Pesticide Control Board regulates the types of chemicals imported and encourages safe use. Neither the Board, nor the Department of Agriculture is actively involved in ensuring that negative environmental impact, including the pollution of surface and ground water, is minimized by the application of agrochemicals.

Fisheries Department: The Fisheries Department was established on January 1, 1965, and is concerned with the conservation and protection of both inland and marine fisheries, and in ensuring that fishing is conducted in a sustainable manner. It is involved in the promotion of aquaculture, in quality control of fish processed products, in the enforcement of fisheries laws and regulations, in research and training, and liaising with the fishing community. In March 1990, the Coastal Zone Management Unit was set up with the particular responsibility of coastal zone planning and the protection of coastal ecosystems.

Ministry of Works

The Ministry of Works is entrusted with bridge construction and maintenance, land reclamation and drainage, and road construction and maintenance. The ministry also has budgetary allocations for activities related to the drains of Belize City and other main towns and villages, drainage of several roads, and river bank maintenance. In addition, the ministry is involved in the maintenance, improvement, and cleaning of navigable waterways and canals, the construction of piers and jetties, and the granting of permits for the temporary obstruction of rivers, which includes the floating of timber. The ministry provides emergency water supplies to rural communities when water sources are determined to be of inadequate quality. With regard to its support for sanitation services, it operates a septic tank emptying service for a fee.

Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, and Transport

The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, and Transport is responsible for the formulation and execution of policies relating to the production and distribution of energy, and, of particular relevance, hydro-generated power. This aspect is coordinated through the "Office of Electricity Supply", which is in contact with the Belize Electricity Company Limited (BECOL), which owns and operates the power plants with Belize Electricity Limited (BEL), the company that operates the local electricity distribution system. Earlier this year, the Hydrology Department was transferred from the Ministry of Natural Resources. The Hydrology Department mandate includes the determination of the water balance of the country, as well as, advice on the safe and efficient use of water resources.

Hydrology Department

The Hydrology Department is responsible for implementing the stated policy relating to collection and analysis of data on quantity, quality, and variability of water resources; hydrological investigations for engineering and water resources projects; and publication and dissemination of information. The department works closely with the National Meteorology Service and advises the government on watershed and environmental management, and natural disasters such as droughts, floods, and water pollution.

The Hydrology Department has been acting as the chair of the Pro-Tem Water Commission. This commission has been trying to harmonize the water resources sector by coordinating the activities of the various departments involved in the sector. Through the efforts of the chair and the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Food and Agriculture Organization deployed two international consultants to work with two local consultants to propose an institutional framework for the overall management of the water resources sector and to draft legislation to provide a legal mandate for its operation. Consensus is still being sought for its implementation.

The department is anxious to establish a national hydrological network and thus, is establishing new hydrological measuring stations. Eventually, it is hoped to progress to real-time telemetry networks, with mathematical models for flood forecasting and flood control. For this, assistance will be required in installing the model, training people, and providing the hardware and software required to run the model. The department is currently housed on Regent Street in Belize City. Staffing comprises a chief hydrologist, a senior technician operations, a senior technician data analyst, and a clerk/typist.

Ministry of Economic Development

The Ministry of Economic Development is responsible for the efficient allocation of resources for economic and social development. This responsibility is expressed through the coordination of national development planning, management of external cooperation activities and technical assistance, management of the Public Sector Investment Programme, the promotion and monitoring of selected private sector investments for both export and domestic production, and the preparation of annual analyses of the country's economic and social performances.

Relation with other sectors

As stated earlier, there is a relation between the water supply and sanitation sector and other sectors such as health, tourism, mining, environment, and housing. The laws that regulate such sectors also regulate their use of water resources. As a result, there is an overlap in competence and functions among different institutions, creating conflicts that foster fragmentation of the water resource sector with a corresponding lack of coordination. This has resulted in some activities being performed by more than one agency and others that are not carried out by any. Nonetheless, there are intersectorial coordination efforts that merit mention.

Intersectoral Community-Based Environmental Health Programme

Since 1993, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Natural Resources have participated in an intersectoral "Community Based Environmental Health Programme" to coordinate the delivery of community based services. Introduced under the auspices of the AID-funded Improved Productivity Through Better Health Project (IPTBH), this strategy calls for coordinated planning with the Ministry of Health through the development of intersectoral community-based environmental teams (CBET) to address environmental problems common to both ministries. A major accomplishment of this program has been the formation of institutional linkages between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Natural Resources, using primary health care as a vehicle for this effort.

The functional organizational structure for these linkages consist of intersectoral teams at different ministerial levels: a Senior Intersectorial Executive Committee (senior decision-makers including the chief executive officer of WASA), a Central Management Team (technical staff), and at the district level, an Environmental Health Subcommittee of the District Health Team. The lines of communication between these teams are both vertical and horizontal in nature. This approach has proved effective in coordinating service delivery at the community level resulting in a more effective utilization of scarce resources within both ministries. It has also provided a means for decentralizing services.

Lack of resources and clear policy guidelines within the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Natural Resources, however, have constrained the full development of the approach and has diminished coordination over the last year. Neither the Ministry of Health nor the Ministry of Natural Resources have yet approved a set of proposed polices regarding community-based environmental health that were put forward in a position paper prepared by the two ministries in 1994. In the absence of such guidelines, HECOPAB and RWSSP are limited by their own institutional resources in providing community-based services.

Land Utilization Authority

The Land Utilization Authority is provided for in the Land Utilization Act of 1993. It repeals the former act of 1981. The authority is comprised of the Commissioner of Lands and Survey as Chair, the Chief Engineer of the Ministry of Works, the Chief Agricultural Officer, the Chief Environmental Officer, a representative of the Ministry of Economic Development, the Director of Social Development, the Physical Planner, a representative of the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Senior Planning Officer of the Department of Housing and Planning, and two persons from the private sector. The authority considers all applications for the subdivision of land, and may require that the applicant submit verification that the application conforms to the standards established by WASA regarding waterworks, the Director-General of Electricity Supply, and the Principal Public Health Inspector. An Environmental Impact Assessment approved by the Department of the Environment may be required and the Authority may consult the local authorities concerned and any statutory planning authority. A prescribed fee is required with each application. The authority will also demarcate specific areas as Special Development Areas for which development plans shall be prepared.

The Land Utilization Authority is a coordinating committee that is provided for by law. In principle, it should be able to fill the gaps not covered by WASA and the Ministry of Housing. Unfortunately, a number of factors limit the effectiveness of this authority. Prominent among these is the lack of staff to follow up on implementation of the activities agreed upon as essential on a timely basis. Another factor is the frequency of attendance of the members at meetings and their level of preparedness when they are able to attend.

Before the passage of the regulations which stipulate conditions and situations under which an Environmental Impact Assessment is required, there was no authority that reviewed development plans with the intention of ensuring that unsustainable use of the natural resources of Belize was minimized. In many ways the passage of the Environmental Impact Assessment regulations should be seen as complementing the work of the Land Utilization Authority and where applicable, should be supported by the work of the technical departments to ensure thorough and objective assessment of the potential effect of the development.

2.1.2 Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)

There are a number of international and indigenous nongovernmental organizations working in Belize on matters related to the environment and public health. The local NGOs are important in facilitating the expression of community views and promoting grassroots participation. The more prominent national NGOs concerned with water-related issues are the Belize Center for Environmental Studies, the Belize Audubon Society, and the Belize Enterprise for Sustainable Technology.

Belize Center for Environmental Studies

This organization is involved in various research activities which includes collection of water resources data. The work of the center includes the production of the Belize Country Environmental Profile, collection of hydrologic data in the Port of Honduras, and a recent study on climate change.

Belize Audubon Society

This is a nonprofit organization concerned with the preservation and development of the environment and the conservation of Belize's natural heritage. It is active in the management of protected areas, many of which fall within important watersheds. Although its activities are not directed at providing potable water, its concern for the protection of natural habitats has spinoff benefits for pollution prevention.

Belize Enterprise for Sustainable Technology (BEST)

The Belize Enterprise for Sustainable Technology was founded to provide technical assistance to small enterprises with a commitment to environmental sustainability. It has been involved in the development of biogas, solar energy, and water for refugees in conjunction with UNHCR.

2.1.3 International Donor Agencies

There are a number of international donor agencies that support the activities of the government in the provision of water and sanitation services. Among these are PAHO/WHO, UNICEF, AID, and UNHCR.

Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO)

PAHO/WHO supports and assists the Belizean Government, through the Ministry of Health, by the provision of technical expertise and equipment to the areas of public health, water quality, solid waste disposal, and sanitation. Two years ago, a program related to water quality was embarked upon in three stages:

  1. bacteriological quality of drinking water

  2. national drinking water standards

  3. water quality monitoring of all waters (including effluent).

This organization is currently supporting the development of the National Health Plan for 1996-2000. It is also supportive in the completion of this sectoral assessment.

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)

UNICEF has been working in Belize since 1954. In 1982, the agency signed a five-year agreement pledging nine million US dollars in support of the government's development plan in five key areas: health, water and sanitation, education, children in especially difficult circumstances, and social development, planning, and monitoring.

In terms of water and sanitation, UNICEF is assisting the government in providing safe water from taps and hand pumps and in the construction of latrines in rural areas. However, UNICEF officials are aware that presence of a tap and latrine is not enough to prevent waterborne diseases. Their operation philosophy is that in the end, the individual's own hygienic behavior is what safeguards his or her health. As a result, UNICEF emphasizes health and sanitation in its programs.

United States Agency for International Development (AID)

The United States, through AID, has channelled support to many sectors in Belize, including the water resources sector. In the water and sanitation subsector, support has been provided to the Improved Productivity Through Better Health (IPTBH) Project. Through this project, drilling equipment was bought, rudimentary water systems were built in the Cayo and Stann Creek Districts, and orientation on the use of behavior change techniques in the provision of health education. Their support to the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Tourism and Environment through the Natural Resource Management and Protection Project, has benefitted the entire water resources sector, even though the project itself is not a water resources project. Through this project, approaches to watershed management have been strengthened, a water quality monitoring program has been developed, a national environmental appraisal committee has been established to review environmental impact assessments, sustainable agricultural practices have been promoted, a national environmental education strategy has been developed, and work is underway to assist in the development of an irrigation strategy.

More of this kind of support is required if full coverage is to be achieved in the next few years. Unfortunately, AID is winding down all of its activities in Belize. Most of its projects in all sectors will be completed by June 1996 and no new projects are under consideration at this time.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

UNHCR has been supporting the subsector through the construction of rudimentary water systems in communities where 30% or more of the population are refugees. These activities had been carried out independently of the Rural Water and Sanitation Programme until recently, when it was agreed that future construction of rudimentary water systems will be a collaborative effort. Unfortunately, UNHCR is said to be cutting back on support for infrastructure development.

2.1.4 Internationally Funded Related Projects

Natural Resource Management and Protection Project (NARMAP)

This project is intended to assist the government and NGOs, concerned with the management and conservation of natural resources and the protection of the environment in managing resources in a sustainable manner. The project is headed by AID with technical assistance from the World Wildlife Fund and the Winrock International Institute for Agricultural Development. There are three elements to this project:

While NARMAP is not a water resources project, it gives substantial support to the management of water resources. Among these are:

2.2 Water Related Responsibilities

The responsibilities associated with the management of water resources are, except where stipulated in legislation, not clearly defined nor coordinated and there are extensive overlaps, and in some cases, duplications. A number of acts and ordinances define the present duties and responsibilities of those institutions that participate in the management of water resources. The principal ones are:

2.2.1 Functions and Existing Responsibilities

Collection and Recording of Hydrological Data

The Hydrology Department (liaising with the National Meteorological Service, WASA, RWSSP, and the Geology and Petroleum Unit) collects data on water resources. Data requests are made by the above departments, by the Department of the Environment, and by the Lands and Survey Unit.

Assessment of Water Resources

A national assessment of surface water and underground water resources has not yet been carried out. Local assessments on a river basin are made for specific purposes by the Hydrology Department, and for the identification of future water sources by WASA.

Development of Water Resources

The development of water resources is executed by WASA for urban water supply areas and by the RWSSP for the rural areas.

Monitoring and Control of Water Rights

The monitoring and control of water rights is not vested in any one institution. However, WASA can acquire water rights wherever necessary for the provision of potable water supplies. When WASA acquires surface water rights it must secure, as far as practicable, that the flow of the stream does not fall below minimum quantities required to protect public health, and the rights of riparians and other land owners.

Issue of Water Abstraction Licenses

No provision has yet been made for issuing water abstraction licenses on a national basis. WASA can, within a water supply area, grant rights for the utilization of water for industrial purposes which includes irrigation and flooding for agricultural purposes. WASA can also require information from any licensee, purveyor, or agent about their water abstraction quantity and quality from any source.

Provision of Water Supplies

WASA is responsible in specified water supply areas. In other areas the RWSSP provides the supplies for operation by local residents. There is no clear statement regarding the mechanisms that new developments should follow prior to declaration as water supply areas. In theory, the new environmental impact assessment regulations allow the Department of the Environment to ensure that the proposed development minimizes environmental degradation, and to force developers to adopt waterworks and sewage disposal designs recommended by WASA and RWSSP.

Protection of Water Supplies

WASA can make bylaws to prevent waste, undue consumption, misuse, or contamination of water provided by it or by a water purveyor. It can impose penalties for polluting water to be used for human consumption.

Use of Water for Irrigation

There is no authority that regulates water usage for irrigation purposes. Except for Section 35 of the Water and Sewerage Act which requires that irrigation within water supply areas be licensed by WASA, no law covers the use of water for irrigation purposes. Thus, irrigation is carried out without any control or restrictions.

Industrial Use of Water

Concerning industrial uses, the Water and Sewerage Act prescribes that water usage within water supply areas be licensed by WASA. Up to date, no licenses for such purposes have been granted.

Use of Water for Hydropower

There is no authority with specific responsibility for overseeing the use of water for hydropower. Any requests for private schemes would initially be made to the Ministry of Natural Resources. The Department of the Environment would also be involved because of environmental impact assessment regulations.

Operational Management of Water Resources

There is no authority for the operational management of water resources, such as river basin transfers and exports, the holding back or supplementing of river flows, aquifer recharge, or conjunctive use of surface water and underground sources. The latter is practiced by WASA for its own sources, for economic reasons rather than for water resources conservation. No mechanisms exist for flood control. Reporting of flood conditions is generally done by the Hydrology Department.

Water Transportation

It is unclear which entity is responsible for the control of transport on inland waters and associated navigation. The Ministry of Works has a dredging section for keeping rivers navigable and is responsible for issuing permits to allow obstructions in rivers (which includes the floating of timber). It is thought, however, that the Ministry of Transport will also have some responsibilities in this area.

Development Control

The Department of the Environment is responsible for input in the preparation of the Natural Development Plan and for reviewing environmental impact assessments of development proposals which may significantly affect the environment. Local planning authorities are required to approve development plans in their areas, but their interests are not specifically directed on effects on the water environment.

Control of Discharges to Sewers

It would be expected that the control of discharge to sewers is the responsibility of WASA, but no reference can be found where this is stipulated. No licensing system is operated and inspections are prompted by specific pumping or treatment problems.

Control of Discharges to Water and Land

The Department of the Environment is responsible for preventing and controlling pollution by coordinating all activities relating to the discharge of wastes. It can control the volume, types, constituents, and effects of such discharges. This responsibility extends to the establishment and enforcement of effluent standards for discharges, including those from public sewage treatment plants. Chapter 31 of Belize legislation also gives the Public Health Bureau the legal mandate to sanction those in contravention.

Control of Solid Waste Tips

The responsibility for operation of public solid waste tips rests with the local authority, with monitoring carried out by the Public Health Bureau and the Department of the Environment.

Prevention of Groundwater Pollution

Control of activities on water gathering grounds or on land overlying aquifers refers to activities other that the discharge of wastes. Examples such as deforestation and land use are within the responsibility of the Ministry of Natural Resources. This ministry has powers to make regulations to demarcate certain areas as water catchment areas or watersheds. Others activities like mining and oil exploration are now the responsibility of the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, and Transport. Other examples such as recreational or sporting activities likely to create a pollution hazard would be expected to be under the general responsibility of the Ministry of Tourism and Environment.

Operation of Sewerage Systems

WASA is responsible for maintaining and developing the sewerage system and other property relating thereto in any sewerage disposal area.

Operation of Sewage Treatment Works

The public sewage treatment works are taken as an extension of the sewerage system and responsibility for its operation must, therefore, be assumed to rest with WASA.

Operation of Surface Water Channels

Operation and maintenance of town surface water channels, ditches, and canals are the responsibility of the local city or town council.

Coastal Zone Management

This is the responsibility of the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and is being overseen by a recently formed Coastal Zone Management Unit.

Monitoring of River Water Quality

The monitoring of river water quality is currently not carried out by any specific department or institution on a routine basis. WASA takes and analyzes samples if it suspects river water quality problems upstream of its intakes. Similarly, the Public Health Bureau does likewise for unimproved supplies when health problems are indicated. The Environmental Protection Act gives this mandate to the Department of the Environment. The recent water quality monitoring program developed by the Department of the Environment is a step toward regular monitoring.

Monitoring of Groundwater Quality

WASA monitors its own wells and the Public Health Bureau monitors rudimentary water systems, hand pumps, and unimproved sources. In all areas, samples are obtained as pumped prior to any treatment and facilities do not exist for taking down-the-hole samples.

Monitoring and Control of Coastal Water Quality

Control of coastal water quality rests with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the sampling and analysis of coastal water is carried out on its behalf in cooperation with the Water Quality Laboratory of the Public Health Bureau.

Quality Checks of Domestic Water Supplies

This is the responsibility of the Public Health Bureau, although, for supplies by WASA, checks are currently only made for chlorine residual. For other water supply systems, the situation is as above, under monitoring of groundwater quality.

Emergency Situations

It is not clear what entity would deal with situations such as accidental spillage of dangerous chemicals and the prevention of them contaminating rivers or aquifers.

2.3 Legal Aspects

Since the objective of the sector is to provide adequate water supply and sanitation services at a reasonable cost and on a sustainable basis, it is evident that a reform process should be initiated. As a first stage in this process, consensus should be reached in terms of the reorganization of the sector and the separation of policy making, regulatory duties, and executive functions.

It is evident that the formulation, implementation, and performance of policy reforms may depend on an effective legal framework supporting such changes. For a policy reform to have the intended impact, legal obstacles and regulatory restrictions must be removed. The careful examination of the legal framework is critical to recognize what amendments need to be implemented, if any; what new laws need to be enacted, and how much reform is possible through the current applicable legislation.

Discussions have taken place and several documents have been the product of research regarding the various aspects concerning water resources. One study in particular was carried out with the intention of presenting the government with options regarding the reorganization of the sector. Based on recommendations contained in two reports, "Water Management Policy, Planning, and Organization", and "Water Laws and Institutions in Belize," a draft "National Water Resources Commission Bill" was presented for discussion at the National Workshop on Water Policy and Legislation held in Belize City on April 7-8, 1994.

The draft bill provides for the establishment of a National Water Commission to manage water resources in an integrated manner, i.e., with respect to all phases of the hydrologic cycle (surface water, groundwater, and atmospheric water) and, in terms of quantity and quality. This alternative was considered too costly, and a second document was presented later, offering two options for a National Water Resources Commission Bill providing for a coordinating/advisory commission assisted by a strengthened Hydrology Department (Option 1), and an executive commission assisted by a strengthened Hydrology Department in the capacity of the commission's Executive Secretariat (Option 2).

It is important that the legal implication of the various reorganization alternatives be reviewed from a sectoral, as well as, community perspective. It not only concerns the water resources, but also the sector's organization at various levels including the water companies' structure, their autonomy, their authority to set and enforce tariffs, grant licenses, operate different services, hire and fire staff, and file suits against third parties if necessary.

Furthermore, in order to reach the above mentioned goal, the legislation should establish water as both a natural resource and as a consumer good, and create a legal framework which permits all needed measures to reach sector sustainability (for example: grant sector authority, enable decentralization, provide for the separation between regulatory and executive powers, as well as, to allow for active participation of the private sector).

Should the government decide to undergo a reorganization of the water supply and sanitation sector, or the overall management of the water resources, its new organization has to be discussed and agreed to during the months to come.

With regard to water resources, several issues have been identified as critical and thus, need to be addressed by legislation, if sectorial policies tending towards the reorganization of the sector are to be implemented. Such issues deal with ownership status, rights of use, management, conservation, protection of sources, and quality of water resources. With the purpose of determining the need to amend or enact legal provisions befitting economic and social development demands of the sector, the following section will review the current legislation, focusing on those matters relevant to the above mentioned issues.

2.3.1 Ownership Status of Water Resources

In comparative law, the three systems for the ownership of water resources are the public, private, and mixed systems. In Belize, there is no clear statement as to which system applies. In many countries, legislation expressly provides that water resources belong to the State, but in Belize, certain provisions regard water as an asset that can be owned or be the object of absolute use rights. For instance, Sections 41 and 44 of the Water and Sewerage Act seem to vest WASA ownership rights over water resources, as their wording reads: whether or not water belongs to it or to a "water purveyor", and "water belonging to the Authority".

Furthermore, Section 3 of the Prescription Act enables any person to acquire by prescription, custom, or grant, and by way of easement, an absolute and indefeasible right to the use of water from a water course if such right has been enjoyed for a period of forty years and is not the result of a written agreement. Likewise, the Law of Property stipulates that the transfer of land entails the transfer of all appurtenances thereto, including the water and water courses. No limitations regarding the use of such water and water courses are set therein. Thus, it may be assumed that this use may be exercised freely. Arbitrary use of such waters represent a potential problem regarding possible depletion of aquifers, alteration of courses, and pollution of sources. It should then be clarified that the ownership of land does not entail the ownership of water resources located therein.

In brief, there is no legal statement as to the ownership of water resources. This ambiguous condition enables any person to claim the rights of use provided for in some laws and referred to as exclusive, absolute, unlimited, and indefeasible. Such rights of use, at present, have a status similar to that of ownership rights. Whereas ownership rights are not vested in the State, the government might find legal obstacles in disposing of water resources for given purposes, e.g., controlling pollution, and allocating water resources for certain activities to promote economic growth.

2.3.2 The Use of Water Resources

Water can be used in two broad ways: (a) the common use, which is exercised in a direct way over the sources to satisfy human need, without utilizing any artifact or equipment; it does not result in sensible alteration over quality, and quantity, nor the behavior of the sources; and (b) the special use, which provides to the right holder a concrete economic or social benefit. This use is exercised in an exclusive manner over determined hydrous goods, for defined periods of time and specified destination, and implies control over the quality, quantity, and behavior of the sources. This use includes domestic, agricultural, hydroelectric, touristic, industrial, and others.

Several laws regulate the various sectors regarding the use of water resources. Thus, certain water uses are subject to licenses and regulation, while others may be carried out without any restrictions or interference from the government. This situation poses serious problems, as a water source might be exploited indiscriminately to serve one or more particular purposes in detriment of equitable use.

With regard to licenses, Section 35 of the Water and Sewerage Act, establishes that WASA may license industrial and irrigation uses, including flood irrigation, within water supply areas. Until now, no such licenses have been granted. It is noteworthy that WASA, a user itself, is not subject to license requirements.

2.3.3 Water Resources Management

In Belize, at present, numerous entities at different hierarchic levels have competence in the management of water resources. Among them, there are various ministries, departments, councils, commissions, as well as, centralized, decentralized, and semiautonomous entities. Neither of these entities has complete and integral control over the use, conservation, and management of water. To the contrary, they undertake partial control, managing the resource in a fragmented manner, with only minor regard to overall planning criteria. In addition, at the district level, no institutions perform water management functions as entities independent from the central administration. At the local level, the Belize City Council implements the provisions relating to the drainage of Belize City under the Belize City Council Act.

In villages, what have been called "rudimentary water systems", were until recently managed by informal institutional mechanisms. The water supply systems are built by WASA or the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Programme. These systems are only constructed if at least 70% of the initial hookup fees have been collected and the villagers take the responsibility of operating and maintaining the systems and to recover operation and maintenance costs. Presently, the boards of management are appointed by the Minister of Natural Resources to carry out these activities. The boards consist of a chair, a vice chair, a secretary, administrative officers, and system operators/plumbers.

The boards are empowered to make rules regarding the operation and maintenance of the systems and the water rates. The rates charged should cover water cost, operation and maintenance costs, and staff salaries. The tariffs range from $5.00 to $18.00, in accordance with the economic situation of the villages. The funds collected are pooled into bank accounts which are kept in the name of the boards.

Given the current situation, it is evident that the responsibilities of existing water resources institutions are often duplicated, while no entity performs overall management functions within certain areas of concern, such as the control of underground water protection, abstraction, and use. In addition, aspects relating to water quantity are dealt with separately from water quality.

2.3.4 Conservation and Protection of Sources and Water Quality

This area includes the protection of water resources from activities carried out by individuals. The applicable provisions intend to stop the deterioration, loss or reduction not only of the quantity and quality of water, but also of all other natural resources. It includes, likewise, the adoption of safety measures to protect people and their goods from hydrological phenomena, artificial or natural. The provisions concerning protection refer to pollution generated either by users or as a consequence of residual water disposal into water sources.

Other legislation on water quality and pollution control are disseminated in various enactments implemented, in turn, by different institutions. The 1992 Environmental Protection Act vested in the Department of the Environment, (Ministry of Tourism and the Environment), has a range of functions related to the protection of the environment, including the assessment of water pollution, the coordination of activities relating to the discharge of wastes, the licensing of activities that may cause water pollution, the registration of sources of pollution and the carrying out of research and investigations as to the causes, nature, and extent of water pollution and the necessary prevention and control measures.

Further, in accordance with Section 7 of the cited act, the department plays an advisory role with respect to the elaboration of regulations relating to, inter alia, effluent standards, water quality standards, and the sampling of water and waste. Under Section 4, it has the power to undertake inspections in order to ensure compliance with the Act. A regulation on effluent standards has just been passed. In addition, the Public Health Act contains several provisions to prevent water pollution in the interest of public health. Some of these rules regulate the drainage of buildings, the construction of sanitary facilities, the purification of well water used for domestic purposes and, in general, the prevention of nuisances. The Minister of Health is also empowered to make regulations relating to the prevention of water pollution.

With regard to sewerage systems, Section 1 of the Water and Sewerage Act makes WASA responsible for the construction, operation, maintenance, and administration of sewerage works within sewage disposal areas declared by the Minister of Natural Resources. WASA requests the owners of premises in such areas to install sanitary facilities and to connect their property to the sewers, provided that a sewer is located at not less than 150 feet from the premises. Whomever fails to comply with the duty to connect is liable of an offense. Under Sections 74 and 75, WASA can execute the works on the public's behalf and at their expenses. Section 15 of the Public Health Act also prescribes a duty to install sanitary facilities in private buildings. WASA is entitled to make bylaws for the purpose of preventing the pollution of water, whether surface or underground, whether within a water supply area or not, and whether belonging to WASA or to a water purveyor or not (Water and Sewerage Act, Section 41). These bylaws may carry penalties under criminal law (Section 43). In addition, the act prescribes a penalty for the pollution of water intended for human consumption or for domestic purposes (Section 42).

Other rules relating to water pollution control can be found in the Mines and Minerals Act, which, under Section 36, requires that any application of a mining license be accompanied by proposals for the prevention of pollution, the treatment of wastes, the safeguarding of natural resources, and the minimization of the effects of mining on surface and underground water. It is noteworthy, that although groundwater is a major source of water supply for drinking purposes and irrigation in Belize, no legal enactments cover the activities relating to its protection, abstraction, and use, similar to those applicable to surface water. This results in a) uncontrolled abstraction which may exceed the aquifers safe yield, and b) potential danger to public health because water quality is not controlled.

2.4 Human Resources

The distribution of human resources working in this sector is fragmented. Even though nine departments currently participate in the utilization and management of water resources, many of them do so as one of many other important activities. Only two departments are directly involved in the management of the resources. The Hydrology Department collects data and some analysis to support planning. The Environment Department establishes standards and regulates the sector as a part of its mandate for overall management of the natural resources of Belize.

Table 10
Employees dedicated to the Water and Sanitation Sector


Employees (Aug 95)








RWSSP 56 17.5 2
WASA 241 75.3 ...
MOH ... ... ...
PHB 17 5.3 9
MTE ... ... ...
DOE 3 0.9 5
MESTT ... ... ...
HYDRO 3 0.9 5
Total 320 100.0 21

WASA, a quasi-governmental institution, is also empowered to develop regulations for the water supply and sanitation subsector. It may hire the human resources required to execute the delivery of water supply, limited exclusively by financial constraints. WASA is the single biggest employer in the sector and its salary and benefits package is attractive. As can be noted in Table 10, 75% of the human resources at the national level can be found at WASA providing running water service to eight towns and one city and operating two sewerage systems; one in Belize City, and the other in Belmopan. Only 17% of the human resources provide the water and sanitation needs of the rural population, 52% of the total population. As can be appreciated, there is an uneven distribution and assignment to address the needs of the rural area.

Table 11
Classification of Sector Personnel by Category






Lab Tech.


& Crew











RWSSP 1 10 ... 29 ... ... 16 56
WASA 1 87 3 33 2 29 86 241
MOH ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
PHB ... ... 1 14 2 ... ... 17
MTE ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
DOE ... ... ... 3 ... ... ... 3
MESTT ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
HYDRO ... ... 1 2 ... ... ... 3
Total 2 97 5 81 4 29 102 320
% 0.62 30.31 1.56 25.31 1.25 9.06 31.87 100

Table 12
Classification of Sector Personnel by Region

















RWSSP 13 43 ... 56 ... 56
WASA 58 115 68 241 232 9
MOH ... ... ... ... ... ...
PHB 17 ... ... 17 11 6
MTE ... ... ... ... ... ...
DOE 3 ... ... 3 3 ...
MESTT ... ... ... ... ... ...
HYDRO 3 ... ... 3 3 ...
Total 94 158 68 320 249 71
% 29.37 49.37 21.25 100 77.81 22.18

Faced with financial constraints, there have been few requests for an increase in human resources by the various ministries involved in the sector. From Tables 11 and 12, the following values can be obtained: Of the sector's human resources, 78% carry out the urban area's services administration (48% of the total population); 22% services rural areas (52% of the total population). The area least serviced by the sector's personnel on a per capita basis are the rural zones of the country. Issues related to the water resource sector at the national level are addressed by 29% of human resources. There are five engineers servicing the sector and constitute 1.56% of the total number of people working in the sector. Technical personnel, including lab technicians and operators, comprise 66% of the existing human resources.

2.4.1 Human Resources Training

Since higher education institutions in Belize do not offer degrees in engineering, human resources training requires costly investments. WASA is the only institution that has ongoing training programs for its human resources within its structure. Other institutions require overseas training. Most receive their training in the United States, England, and the English-speaking Caribbean. Bilingual personnel are able to go to educational institutions in Central America. Generally, institutions do not have sufficient funds to undertake a sustainable human resources development program.

2.4.2 Human Resources in Urban and Rural Areas

In the urban areas there is a greater number of qualified personnel than in the rural areas. The rural areas generally do not have qualified or capable personnel to carry out the technical and operational responsibilities and administrative functions in an efficient and effective way.

General Considerations

There has been continuity at the management level (exceeding seven years at their posts), in both the rural and urban water supply and sanitation sector. There is also minimal turnover in staff at the technical level in most of the institutions involved in the sector. Nonetheless, a large deficit of specialized professionals exist. To develop the present programs, hydraulic engineers, sanitation engineers, chemical engineers, lab technicians, biologists, geologists, and mechanics are required.

The RWSSP has a limited number of specialized personnel and it does not have the financial resources to execute a training program that would allow it to carry out its functions. However, the working relationship between WASA and RWSSP allows the former to provide significant technical support to the latter. The program manager of RWSSP reports to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Natural resources, through the chief executive. Regrettably, qualified personnel that receive training overseas often decide to work outside the country.

2.5 Current Reorganization Projects for the Sector

It is important to bear in mind that discussions regarding the need to reorganize the sector have taken place and that several studies have approached the issue. Nonetheless, such efforts have not been successful in achieving a consensus as to the way in which the sector should be organized. As indicated earlier, on request of the Belize Government, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), presented a study to help formulate a national water resources management policy and legislation.

The project included the regulatory and executive aspects with regards to planning, granting of licenses, and protection of water resources. It also contained provisions aimed at the innovation of the operation and management, supply services, and fiscal incentives, and proposed the creation of a National Water Commission, including two options for its creation. The document stresses that, in order to solve the problems identified within the sector, a comprehensive statute for water resources management needs to be adopted, and all legal provisions that are inconsistent with it and/or obsolete are to be repealed.

Although the study represents a significant step forward and contains valuable information, dialogue among the different interested institutions has not been promoted since its final version was presented in November 1994. Shortly after that, the Hydrology Department was shifted to another ministry. In addition, it seems that not enough consensus building efforts were undertaken while the institutional and legal framework were being developed. Many believe that the institution that was proposed is unwieldy and that significant rethinking is required. To date, no project aiming at reorganizing the water supply and sanitation sector has been undertaken.

2.5.1 Comments on the Legal Framework

Legal provisions regarding water resources are included in several laws and regulations. Such fragmentation is related to the lack of clear and defined responsibilities among the entities in charge of the different aspects of water resources management, e.g., water supply and sewerage, fishing, hydro-power production, sanitation, water pollution. Thus, various government departments and agencies are responsible for the management of water resources within their respective sectors where coordination is practically nonexistent and it is common to find a number of institutions performing the same functions.

Furthermore, those implementing entities are assigned with certain responsibilities and functions without providing for the necessary institutional capacity. As a consequence, its duties are rarely completely met, and if so, control, monitoring, and impact evaluation are hardly ever assessed. These problems render many legal provisions unenforceable. The above mentioned problems make the efficient management of the sector a difficult task, making it necessary to approach its reorganization as a whole, integrating all aspects involved.

2.6 Recommendations

Water resources should be viewed as a positive factor in development. Thus, measures to correct the problems analyzed should be enforced. If the government reaches consensus and undertakes the reorganization of the sector, it is of utmost importance to define and implement the changes needed in legislation. Besides problems related to the rules and regulations themselves, there are those which refer to the government's capacity to establish and enforce such rules. Although legislation may help, it will be a challenge to build institutional capacity. Hence, building relevant institutional capacity should be examined and appropriate financial and human resources should be made available early in the reorganization process.

On the other hand, specific issues should be addressed regardless of any reorganization endeavor. Such issues include ownership rights, use, management, and protection of water sources and quality of water resources, as well as, the human resource limitations that the sector faces. In any case, amendments and new legislation must be implemented within the goals and objectives of the sector and overall national development policies so that past errors are not repeated. Thus, sectors such as agriculture, industry, tourism, housing, works, and mining, must be provided with coordination mechanisms in order to avoid duplication of functions and multiple responsibilities.

Efficient management of water resources calls for integrated overall planning, regulatory functions, licensing regimes, protection, and conservation. These aspects must have an appropriate legal framework which allows the performance of essential functions needed for management and supply of water and sanitary services, in accordance with socioeconomic development policies. As pointed out earlier, if the proposed sectoral goal is to be reached, the legislation should establish water both as a natural resource and as a consumer good. It should also create a legal framework which permits all needed measures to reach sector sustainability which include granting sector authority, enabling decentralization, providing for the separation between regulatory and executive powers, as well as, for participation of the private sector.

Comprehensive legislation should be enacted in order to correct and further avoid conflicts and duplication of responsibilities and to fill existing legislative gaps. In this context, a coordinating effort is of utmost importance. The population and government entities should be aware of aspects related to the subject matter, such as, environmental impacts, water quality, pollution control, and those relating to consultation mechanisms, rights and obligations of the citizens, and of governmental agencies, among others.

The drafting of different laws and regulations that need to be implemented to support future reorganization and performance of the sector falls outside the scope of this assessment. Such a task must be carried out after a conceptual framework is agreed upon. It is important that the responsibility for high quality water supply and sanitation, as well as, overall water resources management falls on various organizations, hence its regulatory process should give all those concerned an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. In any event, further discussions should be aimed at reaching an agreement under social, economic, and environmentally sound principles.

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