Wendy Betancourt lives in the rural farming community of Bella
Vista, Belize – a district where forest fires are a frequent and very present danger. It is also
a community that is about 10 miles away from the fire station and so only the resilience of
the residents will ensure that their properties and livelihoods are not lost in the event of a
Faced with this reality, Betancourt and other members of her Farmers Club have been taking
measures to ensure they can reduce their fire hazard.
“To reduce the destruction caused by frequent forest fires, our homes and farms are constructed
with fire proof materials,” she said, explaining that unlike other farming clubs and communities
in Belize, many residents of Bella Vista build their houses and farming infrastructure with zinc
roofs instead of thatch.
Betancourt, who is the Chairperson of her Farmers Club, and the other farmers have also been
getting assistance from the Community Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (CDRRF) of the
Caribbean Development Bank.
“We recognized that the fire risk that the farmers are facing has been exacerbated by climate
change with impacts such as longer droughts and increasing temperatures,” explained Project
Manager of the CDRRF, Claudia James. “So we have been working with Humana People to
People in Belize to build the capacity of the Farmers’ Clubs and to encourage the
implementation of climate smart agricultural practices.”
A key part of this assistance has been a training module in Fire Safety and Prevention that was
included in all nine of the Farmers Clubs established under the Humana People to People Project
in Belize as well as all 11 target communities under the project. Bella Vista with its population
of roughly 6000 people, was seen as a priority community for the training.
“When I heard of the Farmers Club project and the many hazards, I knew it was a good idea to
go into these villages and educate these residents on fire safety in the home. Since the trucks and
condition of the roads are a problem, the training was considered to be important,” said Independence Village Fire Chief, Mr. Grant Perez, who collaborated with Humana and CDRRF to get the training done.
The Farmers’ Clubs are located in deeply rural areas and the distance a fire truck will have to
travel in the event of a fire may mean an entire village could be destroyed before assistance
reaches them. To compound the problem, the road conditions leading to these communities
present a further challenge for fire units attempting to get into the areas. Limited units are yet
another challenge that the fire response entity faces.
“Fire safety is everybody’s business as fire is a deadly disaster so residents were taught that if
they decide to burn they must know when to burn so as not to destroy the forest,” explained
Perez. Residents use fire to clear their lands for farming as well as some persons burn their
The training covered topics including precautionary measures, specific actions to take in the
event of a fire, agricultural practices that include fires and when not to engage in them as well as
how to control fires to prevent them spreading.
The training was well received, with members lauding Perez for the practical way in which the
information was delivered.
Children were also included in the training and were receptive to the information shared. Many
had never seen a fire truck in their village and were quite excited to interact with the chief as
well as the unit itself.
By engaging adults and children alike, the CDRRF and Humana hopes to equip these villages in
Northern and Southern Belize to continue carrying out fire prevention practices. In the event of
a fire they will also be equipped with the knowledge to help prevent loss of life and property.