Belize, situated on the east coast of Central America, is affected by hurricanes, tidal waves, floods, landslides, fire disasters and wind damage.
Hurricanes have had the most devastating effect on Belize. Belizeans have experienced damage due to high winds and storm surges. Statistics gathered have shown that the coastal towns and areas of Belize are extremely exposed.
Flooding manifests itself as flash floods in the upper reaches. In the lower catchment areas, flooding is caused by ponding. Here, water levels remain elevated for long periods such as two to three weeks. Data has shown that flooding occurred due to tropical depressions, hurricanes, or cold fronts. The coastal areas are especially exposed. As the land is drained by relatively fast-moving rivers, flash floods often occur. The second largest barrier reef in the world covers the entire coastline, engendering storm surges due to the shallow bay.
Fire disasters have occurred mainly within the urban centers and in forested areas. Belize City holds the top spot for the number of fires in the community. In this area, houses are tightly packed and made of timber. There are also the issues of low water pressure and an inadequate distribution of fire hydrants. Additionally, fires are started when butane spills during the refilling process when tankers deliver butane on a house-to-house basis. The proximity of Belize to the boundary of three tectonic plates makes it prone to seismic hazards. Volcanic eruptions in Mexico and Guatemala have had some minor effects on Belize due to ash fall. In addition, the country is affected by landslides.
The most recent hurricanes to affect the country were Keith in 2000, causing three deaths and major damage, and hurricanes Chantal and Iris in 2001, with the latter causing 22 deaths due to a capsized boat. Hurricane Mitch of 1998 did not affect Belize directly, but did cause severe rains and floods in the coastal areas. An Emergency Operation Centre was established in Belize City to evacuate more than 75,000 people from the city and the coastal islands to temporary shelters in Belmopan.
The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), formerly Central Emergency Committee, was created in the year 2000 as the “legal authority to act as the only DM institution for Disaster related matters for the Government and People of Belize”. The Department initially was placed in the Office of the Prime Minister and is now part of the Ministry of Public Utilities. Its mission is defined ad to “provide basic preparedness and prevention measures that can be utilized to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergency and disasters”. The job is concentrated in post-disaster response, plus the creation of consciousness in population, through the peripheral committees coordinated by the central NEMO office.