The Belizean government is determined to improve the living conditions of its citizens. The process has only just begun, but over the past decade, Belizean society has made huge strides in the right direction.
Jobs and Education
Unemployment is one of Belize’s chronic problems. 33 percent of Belizeans live below the poverty line. Unemployment is around 12 percent, with youth unemployment (for Belizeans ages 19 to 24) at 19.5 percent.
Exports of crude oil, citrus fruit, and shrimp account for most of Belize’s GDP, but the country is becoming increasingly reliant on its reputation as a tourist destination. Today, the service industry accounts for more than half of the nation’s jobs.
76 percent of Belize’s population is literate, although rates of literacy are much higher for people between 15 and 25. Belize’s school system follows the British system — children attend primary and then secondary school before they enroll in a university. The government requires that Belizean children between the ages of 5 and 14 attend primary school.
Belize has a few colleges. Most of the country’s college students attend either the University of Belize or Galen University. Unfortunately, these universities don’t supply many opportunities, and many of Belize’s brightest students end up emigrating to other countries.
Infrastructure and Development
Belize’s infrastructure is developing, and Belize still needs help from other countries to meet its goals. The 2008 mortgage crisis and subsequent recession spelled disaster for the Belizean economy. Because Belize is so dependent on tourism from the U.S., its economic growth slowed when a large portion of Americans decided to stay home.
With the recent economic recovery in the U.S., Belize’s economy is experiencing some much-needed growth. As the tourist economy grows, so does Belize’s self-reliance.
Roads vary in Belize. Once you enter rural Belize, you will notice that the quality of the roads declines considerably. But you will find reliably paved roads in Belize City and on most of the country’s major roads. Buses are often not very well maintained, and should be avoided. It is safer to take a taxi, although taxis can be unsafe for women traveling alone.
Keep in mind that the driving culture is quite different in Belize. There are no enforced speed limits, and speed bumps are often the only thing to slow drivers down. Many drivers will not yield to pedestrians.
From September to October, tropical storms pose a threat to Belize. Hurricane Hattie is the worst hurricane in recent memory. It struck in 1961, and destroyed almost half of Belize City, and left thousands of Belizeans homeless. After Hurricane Hattie, Canada and Great Britain supplied financial support to get Belize City back on its feet.
Belizean police have had to deal with issues related to understaffing. They also suffer from a lack of sufficient equipment. The U.S. Department of State began the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) in 2008. This program has greatly improved the Belizean police’s access to resources.
Many medical facilities in Belize are only equipped to handle minor outpatient procedures. Keep in mind that many of Belize’s adventurous activities are undertaken at your own risk.
The United Nations Development Program is working in Belize to lower the instances of malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV infections. These efforts have been immensely successful, and Belize has reached or exceeded many of the goals established by the program.
Belize’s life expectancy has increased quite a bit in the past century. Belizeans born today can expect to live to 75, up from a life expectancy of 68 years in 1950.
Belize’s Benefactors – Baron Bliss and Barry Bowen
On January 14th 1926, an English traveler named Baron Henry Edward Ernest Victor Bliss dropped anchor off Belize’s Caribbean shore. He had chosen to stop there so he could relax and try to recover from a bout of food poisoning. Baron Bliss recovered sufficiently to spend some time sailing around the coast, one of his favorite pursuits.
Not too long after he arrived, he died from his illness. But he had felt so moved by the locals he had met and the beauty of Belize’s coast that he established a $2 million trust for the country of Belize.
Interest earned from the trust has gone toward building the Bliss Centre for Performing Arts, the Bliss School of Nursing, the Corozal Town Health Clinic, as well as improving the Belize City water supply. His trust is still generating interest and will continue to go toward improvements to Belizean infrastructure.
Barry Bowen was born in Belize City in 1945. He was the descendent of some of the first British settlers in Belize. He became the country’s most well known entrepreneur after he purchased the bottling plant that brought a Coca-Cola franchise to Belize. This plant supplies thousands of jobs to Belizeans.
People of Belize
Belize’s population growth and fertility rates are on the decline. Immigration from other South American countries accounts for most of the recent population growth, which is also creating a more diverse culture and society. This diversity has spread to the nation's religious practices, as well. So far, the country has done well in retaining its Mayan heritage whilst making room for foreign citizens.
Belize has become an increasingly attractive destination for retirees who wish to live abroad. The Qualified Retired Persons program allows retirees to stay in Belize as permanent tourists, for as long as they want. The program stipulates that expats participating in the program won’t become residents.
Most Belizeans are extremely welcoming to tourists. Many people depend on tourists for their livelihood, and want visitors to feel at home. In general, Belizeans are highly tolerant of most lifestyles. That being said, you won’t find many openly homosexual people in Belize. On the other hand, although more than half of the population is Catholic, many Belizean parents do not feel societal pressure to marry their partners.
Belizeans aren’t as plugged into technology as most North Americans. About a quarter of Belizeans have access to the Internet, and about half use cell phones. While you visit Belize, you will experience the friendliness of a culture that still depends on helpful neighbors.