Bad water and poor sanitation are major causes of illness in much of the Third World. In Belize, happily these are less of a problem than in Belize’s larger neighbors, Mexico and Guatemala. All residents of Belize City and nearly all towns have access to safe and adequate water supplies — “pipe water” as it’s called in Belize – and close to 80% of rural residents do, according to the Pan American Health Care Organization assessment in 2018. Thanks to the plentiful rain in Belize — from 50 to 200 inches or more per year — drinking water literally falls from the sky, so even if you decide to live in an area without a community water system you can collect drinking water in a cistern. Basic medical health care in Belize is certainly a cut above that of its immediate neighbors in Central America.
Concrete or plastic cisterns, with accompanying pipes and drains to gather rain from your roof, are sold in building supply stores or can be constructed by local workers if your home does not already have one. To be safe, rainwater should be treated by filtering or with a disinfectant such as chlorine bleach. Overall, about 85% of Belizeans have access to potable water. In short, in most areas of Belize, including nearly all areas of interest to expats, you can drink the water and not worry about getting sick. Caveat: Most any medical doctor will tell you to NOT drink Belize water supplied by Belize Water Services. The water treatment facilities are sketchy at best and I have yet to meet a medical profession that will drink Belize “pipe water”.
Increasingly, municipal water supplies in Belize are being privatized. In San Pedro, for example, the water system is run by a company based in the Cayman Islands under a lucrative contract provided by an outgoing government.
In many areas, sewage disposal is less adequate. The Belize Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA), which was privatized in 2001, with majority ownership by a European consortium called CASCAL, operated sewerage systems in Belize City, Belmopan and a few other areas. CASCAL was removed from Belize and a native Belize Water Services Ltd. took over except for the very lucrative Ambergris Caye water system.
There is still a lack of facilities in rural areas, and even in urban areas more than one-third of houses do not have adequate sanitation, according to Belize government figures. In rural parts of Belize, refuse disposal is not organized at the community level; households are responsible for the disposal of their own solid wastes. While many homes have reasonably effective septic systems, or at least well-maintained pit latrines, in poorer areas Belizeans dump their household wastes into rivers or the Caribbean Sea.
Life expectancy at birth in Belize is about 72 years, and this surprisingly matches that of the U.S.A. Heart disease is the leading cause of death from illness for both males and females, but Belizeans, as are Americans, are paying more attention to the causes of heart disease, such as smoking, lack of exercise and a diet high in fats, and the incidence of death from heart illnesses is declining.The wide availability of healthy food such as bananas, ginger, avocados, mangoes, soursop, pineapple, fish, conch, tuna, octopus, fresh coconut and oil, and and endless variety of tropical fruits and vegetables may have something to do with Belizean health.
There are no reliable statistics on how many Belizeans smoke. Certainly, the anti-smoking crusade hasn’t progressed as far as it has in the U.S. Few businesses, public buildings or restaurants are smoke free, and many Belizeans feel it is their right to light up anytime and anywhere. My own very unscientific survey of foreigners resident in Belize suggests that a large number, maybe as many as one-half, smoke. However, with local brands of cigarettes costing US$15+ a carton and imported brands US$20 to $25 or more, the vast majority of Belizeans can’t afford the habit. Other types of smokes are about the same cost and allegedly healthier,