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Area: 5888268 km2
Brazil; Peru; Suriname; France; Colombia; Guyana; Bolivia; Venezuela; Ecuador
Santa Cruz; Manaus; La Paz
HydroBasin Level:
Baseline Water Stress:
Water Quality Stress:
Sanitation Access Stress:
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City & Country

Water-Related Challenge Costs

Total annual estimated cost to address all water-related challenges: $80,057,802.00

Share of total annual estimated cost to address each individual challenge (2015 $USD):

  • Access to Drinking Water: $21,953,743.00 - [27%]
  • Access to Sanitation: $10,551,675.00 - [13%]
  • Industrial Pollution: $27,996,014.00 - [35%]
  • Agricultural Pollution: $479,080.00 - [1%]
  • Water Scarcity: $5,734,323.00 - [7%]
  • Water Management: $13,342,967.00 - [17%]

For more about this data, see information on WRI’s Achieving Abundance dataset here.

Water Challenges

As reported by organizations on the Hub.

No challenges found.

Country Overview

1.1.1.WATER RESOURCES Belize is very rich in surface and groundwater resources. At present, however, total water resources cannot be evaluated because the existing data are limited, particularly with regard to groundwater availability. Surface water resources appear to be abundant all over the country except on the Vaca Plateau, where streams disappear in the porous limestone. The northern rivers show meandering streams while the southern have smaller basins and flow more rapidly into the sea. The sum of the quantified river discharges is 15 km3/yr, occupying 59 per cent of the territory. Five of the rivers originate in Mexico and Guatemala. The Rio Hondo forms the northern boundary of the country, with Mexico, and, in the south, the Sarstoon River is the boundary with Guatemala. The existing aquifers and their annual recharge rate have not been quantified. Generally, groundwater is available throughout the less mountainous areas of Belize and favourable yield characteristics can be attributed to geology and climatic conditions. The northern region consists of calcareous sediments that have shown high permeabilities. In the south, where limestones are found, similar groundwater yield conditions are indicated, while the shales and slates are naturally poorly permeable and therefore have low capacity for groundwater extraction. Sporadic occurrences of poor quality groundwater occur. High concentrations of chloride are found along the coast and along rivers that are subject to tidal effects. Chloride waters are evident in some inland wells in the northern half of the country, probably as a result of the dissolution of salts within the calcareous sediments. Large concentrations of hardness and sulphate are evident in some areas, particularly the Corozal District. While quality problems do exist, it has been Belize's experience that acceptable quality water can usually be located around the country for central supply systems with sufficient test drilling. Poor-quality groundwater can be expected during the dry season when freshwater recharge from precipitation is negligible, particularly in the north, where it extends for three to four months. Belize relies on oil imports and Mexican power for the provision of electricity. As a means of import substitution and reducing the average cost of supplying power, proposals have repeatedly been made for hydroelectric development within the country. Belize is well endowed with potential sites for the development of large and small hydroelectric projects, with eight such sites having been identified. A number of small privately owned plants currently exist. A major hydroelectric project called El Mollejón at Vaca Falls at the confluence of the Rio On and the Macal river is currently in operation. This dam generates 25.2MW of electricity for national distribution. Belize has been uniquely endowed with substantial surface and groundwater resources. A dependable tropical/subtropical rainfall regime in the northwest Caribbean region replenishes the freshwater resource after extended dry periods, which are often induced by recurrent atmospheric/oceanic phenomena such as El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), and feedback mechanisms associated with climate change. However, increase in demand for fresh water resulting from increasing population, greater economic activity and agricultural expansion are threatening the quality and availability of fresh water. Coupled with this is the added stress on the resource induced by the increasing climatic variability witnessed during the past decade or two (Frutos, R. 2003). Belize has a total of 18 major river catchments with another 16 sub-catchments, which drain the Maya Mountains and discharge into the Caribbean Sea. Boles (1999) identifies 16 principal watersheds, which he roughly groups into six main watershed regions based on general characteristics of topography, geology, soils, rainfall and land use. He defines a watershed region as a cluster of watersheds that share many structural, climatic and often impact characteristics. These main watershed regions are the Northern, the Northeastern, the Central, the Southeastern, the Southwestern and the Southern Watershed Regions (Frutos, R. 2003). The total volume of freshwater available per capita in Belize in 1995 was 8,800m3, the highest in Latin America (CCAD, 1998; Belize First National Communications COP/UNFCCC, 2000). In additions, numerous freshwater and brackish water lakes or lagoons are scattered throughout the central and northern coastal areas and low-lying inland areas (Frutos, R. 2003). Potable water supply for urban communities and some rural settlements, and the provision of sewerage services for Belize City and Belmopan, are provided by Belize Water Services (BWS), a private water company which bought the assets and liabilities of the former Water and Sewerage Authority of Belize (WASA) in 2000. The company manages water supply systems for nine urban areas and some 56 rudimentary systems. The average daily water supply from river sources is approximately 3.79 million gallons, from groundwater sources it is 0.59 million gallons, and from springs it is 0.38 million gallons (Frutos, R. 2003). Groundwater is a vital source for freshwater in rural Belize, where almost 95 per cent of the fresh water supply comes from groundwater (Rural Water Unit, Ministry of Rural Development) (Frutos, R. 2003). Groundwater is extracted in rural areas through the use of hand pumps and rudimentary water systems. The Rural Water Unit is primarily responsible for drilling wells and installing pumps. It also works closely with the community in the development of rudimentary water systems, which are financed jointly by the government of Belize through Social Investment Funds (SIF) and United Nation Agencies such as UNICEF, PAHO and UNHCR (Frutos, R. 2003). Belize’s water resources are vitally important for the economic development of the nation and the welfare of its people. The resource is finite and vulnerable to degradation. As in most places, water Country Overview - Belize is considered a free resource and available for the benefit of all (Belize First National Comm. to the COP/UNFCCC, 2000). People use it with little consideration of the needs of others or of its sustainability. Water resources in shared watersheds are the property of co-basin countries; however, little consideration has been given to the proportional ownership and level of responsibility for its protection. Groundwater abstraction is unregulated, as is the case with surface water, and the unrestricted use of fresh water for the cultivation of banana, rice and citrus keeps increasing (Frutos, R. 2003).

1.1.2.WATER USE Water is mainly used in industrial processes. The total water withdrawal of 95 million m3/year is negligible compared to surface water resources. Domestic water consumption per capita is about 240 to 280L per day in urban areas and about 160L per day in rural areas. This is about equal to the amount consumed in industrialized countries. Of the total water used in urban areas, 70 per cent is surface water. Groundwater is also used as a source of drinking water in the cities of the Corozal, Orange Walk, Cayo and Toledo Districts and in some rural areas of Toledo and Cayo. Data on water sources used by industry are not available. However, it is assumed that surface water is also its main water source. The amount of water used for irrigation is estimated to be less than one per cent of total water withdrawal. Water quality in urban areas is good and is constantly monitored by the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA). In rural areas, however, the water quality, mainly in the districts of Toledo, Stann Creek and Cayo, is not satisfactory: full water purification takes place only in the systems that are connected to urban WASA systems (about 30 per cent). A rough estimate made in 1994 indicated that approximately 39 per cent of the population was served with adequate sanitation facilities. Belize used around 579 million m3 (15.3 billion gallons) of water in 2007. The demand for fresh water resources in Belize emanates from three broad economic sub-sectors: agricultural, industrial and domestic/residential. In 2005 , agricultural, industrial and domestic/residential users required 43.7 per cent, 36.5 per cent and 19.7 per cent respectively of the total demand. Belize’s use is consistent with that of other countries in the region that show a greater economical demand for water by the agricultural and industrial sectors (BEST, 2009). Belize has 39 identifiable watersheds, of which 18 are classified as major watersheds. Swamps cover 13.4 per cent of mainland Belize, and 29 lagoons (inland water bodies) have been identified. Wetlands and lagoons form the coastal transition/buffer zones between the fresh water supplied by the watersheds and the marine environment. The transition zones provide an environment for abundant mangrove stands, which filter the runoff before it enters the marine ecosystems. The mangrove ecosystem provides excellent habitat for fish nurseries. In addition, the filtering function of the ecosystem reduces the volume of sediments that eventually reaches the barrier reef. Changes in fresh water inflows into the sea will lead to changes in the physical (turbidity), chemical (salinity, nutrient loads) and biological (flora and fauna) characteristics of water – all of which affect estuarine and coastal ecosystems and may threaten extinction or migration of species to better habitats (BEST, 2009). The coastal and marine ecosystems are very important to Belize’s economy. The Belize Barrier Reef is one of the main attractions for tourists visiting Belize. It accounts for 22 per cent of visits. It is estimated that, in a year, 13,981 Belizeans are employed in the tourism industry. The marine fishing industry provides employment for more that 6,000 fisherfolk. In 2006, tourism contributed 16.8 per cent and the fishing industry 3.1 per cent of Belize’s GDP, respectively (BEST, 2009). 1 Abstract of Statistics, Central Statistical Office of Belize, 2005 2 www.belizetourism.org/belizetourism/tourism-revenues.html 3 Abstract of Statistics, Central Statistical Office of Belize, 2005 4 www.belizetourism.org/belizetourism/tourism-revenues.html In agriculture, the government of Belize (GOB) actively promotes the effective and efficient use of water through improved irrigation systems and accessibility to reliable water sources among its farming communities. Through a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization project, an Irrigation/Drainage Unit at Central Farm has been established with the aim of improving irrigation and drainage systems among the farming communities across the country. In the area of water quality and the integrity of water sources, GOB, through the Pesticide Control Board, a quasigovernmental agency, monitors, regulates and evaluates the use and application of agrochemicals to reduce the threat of contamination of surface and groundwater resources. The ongoing Persistent Organic Pesticide Project should result in the adoption of policies and legislation to further control and discard lethal chemicals that could directly or indirectly contaminate the country’s water resources (BAS, 2008). Land use practices are intricately connected to the quality, quantity and viability of the country’s water resources. Legislation protects a 66-foot riparian buffer zone along all water bodies, but this law is not enforced. Moreover, the 66-foot zone is not adequate in sensitive areas, such as steep hillsides, swamp/marsh lands, and mangrove areas. Although there is now adequate cover, the forested areas, especially mangrove forests, continue to diminish at an alarming rate. The main driving forces in this respect include land clearing, illegal logging and illegal encroachment in reserves, coastal development, and bush fires. Improper agricultural activities can also result in loss of surface soils and chemical pollution of water resources (BAS, 2008). Water surplus is also problematic during the rainy season, resulting in widespread floods in many parts of Belize. Land use and land cover changes affect the frequency and magnitude of floods and sediment loads. Stream response to such changes may be manifested as changes in sedimentation and erosion rates, meandering variability, or changes in the dimensions of channels. Complete removal of land cover will result in higher runoff and an increase in the frequency and magnitude of flood events. In areas where the natural vegetation is permanently converted to agriculture, substantial long-term changes in flooding and sedimentation occur (BAS, 2008).

1.2.WATER QUALITY, ECOSYSTEMS AND HUMAN HEALTH Population pressure is negligible and tourism is becoming an important source of income in Country Overview - Belize Belize. Belize, in general, has plenty of water resources of good quality. Yet conflicts over contamination are beginning between unrestricted industrial waste disposal and drinking water supply. Irrigation in Belize has been marginal because of the country’s climatic and social conditions. Irrigation and drainage information is non-existent. Public irrigation and drainage systems are non-existent; a few private irrigation systems were developed in the 1990s, leading to surface and sprinkler irrigation being used for citrus and banana production, surface irrigation for rice and micro-irrigation for papaya production. It is expected that in the coming years more banana plantations will be irrigated, so that the estimated water withdrawal may be of the order of 240,000m3/year. Around 59 per cent of the urban population has access to a sanitation system. During the past decade the government embarked on an ambitious programme to increase the provision of safe drinking water, focusing primarily in rural areas, where coverage increased from 51 per cent in the early 1990s to 92 per cent in 2003 (BAS, 2008). Nationwide, coverage of safe drinking water provision stands at 92 per cent for rural areas and 99.6 per cent in the urban centres (Ministry of Health/PAHO, 2003). Adequate sanitation service (sewer/septic tank) has lagged behind, and stood at 55 per cent coverage countrywide in 2001. In that year, adequate sanitation coverage was 68.1 per cent for urban areas and 25.8 per cent in rural communities (MDGs First Report, 2005). The challenge for Belize is to ensure improved sanitation coverage, particularly in rural areas (BAS, 2008). Belize needs to improve its water quality and sanitation systems. Although there is limited evaluation and monitoring systems, it is estimated that a large part of the surface water in urban areas is contaminated because of the inadequate disposal of household, agricultural and industrial liquid and solid wastes (BAS, 2008). For human consumption, a radius of 30m (100ft) is required for proper protection of a water source. The area should be properly marked, fenced and maintained. An outer perimeter of 300m (1,000ft) in radius is required to serve as a buffer zone. Even though the situation is not critical at present, if no changes are made, Belize will face a crisis in water governance. Belize could have serious problems of shortage and pollution with regard to its surface and underground water supplies. The Belizean perspective on water has to change from one of reactive concern for this vitally important and abundant resource to one of proactive action to safeguard Belize’s watersheds and vital resources. Much has been done, but much more needs to be done to ensure the sustainable use and management of Belize’s water resources for the benefit of all Belizeans (BAS, 2008)


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Country Water Profile

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Organizations in Belize

To empower underprivileged section of the society by taking stand and providing with financial and logistic support to bring quantities and qualitative changes in their livelihood development for in an Equal and just society implementing the SDG goals by the … Learn More

Projects in Belize

Water scarcity is an increasing phenomenon that already affects 4 billion people today. Water resources are becoming scarcer due to population growth, an increased water footprint and climate change. The key objective of this project is to get sustainable access … Learn More

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