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Belize-Physical Features

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Belize Index


Low-lying land and numerous canals have made Belize City vulnerable to flooding in hurricanes.
Courtesy Steven R. Harper

Topographical features divide the Belizean landscape into two main physiographic regions. The most visually striking of these regions is distinguished by the Maya Mountains and the associated basins and plateaus that dominate all but the narrow coastal plain in the southern half of the country. The mountains rise to heights of about 1,100 meters, with the highest point being Victoria Peak (1,120 meters) in the Cockscomb Mountains. Covered with shallow, highly erodible soils of low fertility, these heavily forested highlands are very sparsely inhabited.

The second region comprises the northern lowlands, along with the southern coastal plain. Eighteen major rivers and many perennial streams drain these low-lying areas. The coastline is flat and swampy, with many lagoons, especially in the northern and central parts of the country. Westward from the northern coastal areas, the terrain changes from mangrove swamp to tropical pine savannah and hardwood forest.

The interlocking networks of rivers, creeks, and lagoons have played a key role in the historical geography of Belize. The largest and most historically important river is the Belize, which drains more than one-quarter of the country as it winds along the northern edge of the Maya Mountains across the center of the country to the sea near Belize City. Also known as the Old River, the Belize River is navigable up to the Guatemalan border and served as the main artery of commerce and communication between the interior and the coast until well into the twentieth century. Other historically important rivers include the Sibun, which drains the northeastern edge of the Maya Mountains, and the New River, which flows through the northern sugar-growing areas before emptying into Chetumal Bay. Both of these river valleys possess fertile alluvial soils and have supported considerable cultivation and human settlement.

Data as of January 1992

BackgroundBelize was the site of several Mayan city states until their decline at the end of the first millennium A.D. The British and Spanish disputed the region in the 17th and 18th centuries; it formally became the colony of British Honduras in 1854. Territorial disputes between the UK and Guatemala delayed the independence of Belize until 1981. Guatemala refused to recognize the new nation until 1992 and the two countries are involved in an ongoing border dispute. Guatemala and Belize are gearing up for a simultaneous referendum to determine if this dispute will go before the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Tourism has become the mainstay of the economy. Current concerns include an unsustainable foreign debt, high unemployment, growing involvement in the South American drug trade, growing urban crime, and increasing incidences of HIV/AIDS.
LocationCentral America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Guatemala and Mexico
Area(sq km)total: 22,966 sq km
land: 22,806 sq km
water: 160 sq km
Geographic coordinates17 15 N, 88 45 W
Land boundaries(km)total: 516 km
border countries: Guatemala 266 km, Mexico 250 km

Coastline(km)386 km

Climatetropical; very hot and humid; rainy season (May to November); dry season (February to May)

Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: Caribbean Sea 0 m
highest point: Doyle's Delight 1,160 m
Natural resourcesarable land potential, timber, fish, hydropower
Land use(%)arable land: 3.05%
permanent crops: 1.39%
other: 95.56% (2005)

Irrigated land(sq km)30 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources(cu km)18.6 cu km (2000)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 0.15 cu km/yr (7%/73%/20%)
per capita: 556 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazardsfrequent, devastating hurricanes (June to November) and coastal flooding (especially in south)
Environment - current issuesdeforestation; water pollution from sewage, industrial effluents, agricultural runoff; solid and sewage waste disposal
Environment - international agreementsparty to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - noteonly country in Central America without a coastline on the North Pacific Ocean
Population307,899 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure(%)0-14 years: 37.9% (male 59,462/female 57,117)
15-64 years: 58.6% (male 91,298/female 89,170)
65 years and over: 3.5% (male 5,185/female 5,667) (2009 est.)
Median age(years)total: 20.4 years
male: 20.3 years
female: 20.6 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate(%)2.154% (2009 est.)
Birth rate(births/1,000 population)27.33 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)5.8 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)NA (2009 est.)
Urbanization(%)urban population: 52% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 3.1% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.92 male(s)/female
total population: 1.03 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 23.07 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 26 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 19.99 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 68.2 years
male: 66.44 years
female: 70.05 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate(children born/woman)3.36 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Nationalitynoun: Belizean(s)
adjective: Belizean
Ethnic groups(%)mestizo 48.7%, Creole 24.9%, Maya 10.6%, Garifuna 6.1%, other 9.7% (2000 census)

Religions(%)Roman Catholic 49.6%, Protestant 27% (Pentecostal 7.4%, Anglican 5.3%, Seventh-Day Adventist 5.2%, Mennonite 4.1%, Methodist 3.5%, Jehovah's Witnesses 1.5%), other 14%, none 9.4% (2000)
Languages(%)Spanish 46%, Creole 32.9%, Mayan dialects 8.9%, English 3.9% (official), Garifuna 3.4% (Carib), German 3.3%, other 1.4%, unknown 0.2% (2000 census)

Country nameconventional long form: none
conventional short form: Belize
former: British Honduras
Government typeparliamentary democracy and a Commonwealth realm
Capitalname: Belmopan
geographic coordinates: 17 15 N, 88 46 W
time difference: UTC-6 (1 hour behind Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions6 districts; Belize, Cayo, Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek, Toledo

Legal systemEnglish law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage18 years of age; universal
Executive branchchief of state: Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); represented by Governor General Sir Colville YOUNG, Sr. (since 17 November 1993)
head of government: Prime Minister Dean Oliver BARROW (since 8 February 2008); Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar VEGA (since 12 February 2008)
cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister
elections: the monarch is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition is usually appointed prime minister by the governor general; prime minister recommends the deputy prime minister

Legislative branchbicameral National Assembly consists of the Senate (12 seats; members appointed by the governor general - 6 on the advice of the prime minister, 3 on the advice of the leader of the opposition, and 1 each on the advice of the Belize Council of Churches and Evangelical Association of Churches, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Belize Better Business Bureau, and the National Trade Union Congress and the Civil Society Steering Committee; to serve five-year terms) and the House of Representatives (31 seats; members are elected by direct popular vote to serve five-year terms)
elections: House of Representatives - last held 6 February 2008 (next to be held in 2013)
election results: percent of vote by party - UDP 56.3%, PUP 40.9%; seats by party - UDP 25, PUP 6

Judicial branchSummary Jurisdiction Courts (criminal) and District Courts (civil jurisdiction); Supreme Court (the chief justice is appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister); Court of Appeal; Privy Council in the UK; member of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)

Political pressure groups and leadersSociety for the Promotion of Education and Research or SPEAR [Gustavo PERERA]; Association of Concerned Belizeans or ACB [David VASQUEZ]; National Trade Union Congress of Belize or NTUC/B [Rene GOMEZ]
International organization participationACP, C, Caricom, CDB, FAO, G-77, IADB, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ITU, ITUC, LAES, MIGA, NAM, OAS, OPANAL, OPCW, PCA, PetroCaribe, RG, SICA, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WCL, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO
Flag descriptionblue with a narrow red stripe along the top and the bottom edges; centered is a large white disk bearing the coat of arms; the coat of arms features a shield flanked by two workers in front of a mahogany tree with the related motto SUB UMBRA FLOREO (I Flourish in the Shade) on a scroll at the bottom, all encircled by a green garland

Economy - overviewIn this small, essentially private-enterprise economy, tourism is the number one foreign exchange earner followed by exports of marine products, citrus, cane sugar, bananas, and garments. The government's expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, initiated in September 1998, led to sturdy GDP growth averaging nearly 4% in 1999-2007, though growth slipped to 3.8% in 2008 as a result of the global slowdown, natural disasters, and the drop in the price of oil. Oil discoveries in 2006 bolstered the economic growth. Exploration efforts continue and a small increase in production is expected in 2009. Major concerns continue to be the sizable trade deficit and unsustainable foreign debt equivalent to nearly 70% of GDP. In February 2007, the government restructured nearly all of its public external commercial debt, which helped reduce interest payments and relieve some of the country's liquidity concerns. A key short-term objective remains the reduction of poverty with the help of international donors.
GDP (purchasing power parity)$2.542 billion (2008 est.)
$2.468 billion (2007 est.)
$2.43 billion (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate)$1.359 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate(%)3% (2008 est.)
1.6% (2007 est.)
5.3% (2006 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$8,400 (2008 est.)
$8,400 (2007 est.)
$8,400 (2006 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 29%
industry: 16.9%
services: 54.1% (2008 est.)
Labor force122,300
note: shortage of skilled labor and all types of technical personnel (2008 est.)

Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture: 10.2%
industry: 18.1%
services: 71.7% (2007)
Unemployment rate(%)8.1% (2008)
9.4% (2006)
Population below poverty line(%)33.5% (2002 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Investment (gross fixed)(% of GDP)27.8% of GDP (2008 est.)
Budgetrevenues: $347 million
expenditures: $386.5 million (2008 est.)
Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)6.4% (2008 est.)
2.3% (2007 est.)

Stock of money$345.7 million (31 December 2008)
$323.9 million (31 December 2007)
Stock of quasi money$653.8 million (31 December 2008)
$549 million (31 December 2007)
Stock of domestic credit$955 million (31 December 2008)
$877.6 million (31 December 2007)
Market value of publicly traded shares$NA
Economic aid - recipient$12.91 million (2005)

Agriculture - productsbananas, cacao, citrus, sugar; fish, cultured shrimp; lumber; garments
Industriesgarment production, food processing, tourism, construction, oil

Industrial production growth rate(%)1.8% (2008 est.)

Current account balance-$153.7 million (2008 est.)
-$51.1 million (2007 est.)
Exports$464.7 million (2008 est.)
$425.6 million (2007 est.)

Exports - commodities(%)sugar, bananas, citrus, clothing, fish products, molasses, wood, crude oil
Exports - partners(%)US 35.6%, UK 21.5%, Cote d'Ivoire 5.3%, Italy 4.5%, Nigeria 4% (2008)
Imports$788.1 million (2008 est.)
$642 million (2007 est.)

Imports - commodities(%)machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods; fuels, chemicals, pharmaceuticals; food, beverages, tobacco
Imports - partners(%)US 37.4%, Mexico 12.9%, Cuba 7.7%, Guatemala 6.1%, Russia 5%, China 4.2% (2008)

Reserves of foreign exchange and gold$166.2 million (31 December 2008 est.)
$108.5 million (31 December 2007 est.)
Debt - external$954.1 million (2008 est.)
$1.2 billion (June 2005 est.)

Exchange ratesBelizean dollars (BZD) per US dollar - 2 (2008), 2 (2007), 2 (2006), 2 (2005), 2 (2004)

Currency (code)Belizean dollar (BZD)

Telephones - main lines in use31,100 (2008)
Telephones - mobile cellular160,000 (2008)
Telephone systemgeneral assessment: above-average system; fixed-line teledensity of 10 per 100 persons; mobile-cellular telephone density roughly 55 per 100 persons
domestic: trunk network depends primarily on microwave radio relay
international: country code - 501; landing point for the Americas Region Caribbean Ring System (ARCOS-1) fiber-optic telecommunications submarine cable that provides links to South and Central America, parts of the Caribbean, and the US; satellite earth station - 8 (Intelsat - 2, unknown - 6) (2008)
Internet country code.bz
Internet users34,000 (2008)
Airports44 (2009)
Roadways(km)total: 3,007 km
paved: 575 km
unpaved: 2,432 km (2006)

Ports and terminalsBelize City, Big Creek
Military branchesBelize Defense Force (BDF): Army, BDF Air Wing, BDF Volunteer Guard (2009)
Military service age and obligation(years of age)18 years of age for voluntary military service; laws allow for conscription only if volunteers are insufficient; conscription has never been implemented; volunteers typically outnumber available positions by 3:1 (2008)
Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 74,605
females age 16-49: 72,926 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 56,135
females age 16-49: 54,732 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 3,632
female: 3,500 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures(% of GDP)1.4% of GDP (2006)
Disputes - internationalOAS-initiated Agreement on the Framework for Negotiations and Confidence Building Measures saw cooperation in repatriation of Guatemalan squatters and other areas, but Guatemalan land and maritime claims in Belize and the Caribbean Sea remain unresolved; the Line of Adjacency created under the 2002 Differendum serves in lieu of the contiguous international boundary to control squatting in the sparsely inhabited rain forests of Belize's border region; Honduras claims Belizean-administered Sapodilla Cays in its constitution but agreed to a joint ecological park under the Differendum

Electricity - production(kWh)213.5 million kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 59.9%
hydro: 40.1%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption(kWh)198.5 million kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - exports(kWh)0 kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - imports(kWh)248.4 million kWh (2005)
Oil - production(bbl/day)3,511 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - consumption(bbl/day)7,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports(bbl/day)2,260 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - imports(bbl/day)7,204 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - proved reserves(bbl)6.7 million bbl (1 January 2009 est.)
Natural gas - production(cu m)0 cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - consumption(cu m)0 cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - exports(cu m)0 cu m (2008)
Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)0 cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)2.1% (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS3,600 (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deathsfewer than 200 (2007 est.)
Major infectious diseasesdegree of risk: high
food or waterborne diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever
vectorborne diseases: dengue fever and malaria
water contact disease: leptospirosis (2009)
Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 76.9%
male: 76.7%
female: 77.1% (2000 census)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)(years)total: 13 years
male: 13 years
female: 13 years (2004)
Education expenditures(% of GDP)5.3% of GDP (2004)

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