BELIZE CITY, April 7, 2016 - A new World Bank Group report released today examines key opportunities and constraints to foster sustainable and inclusive growth in the country as the Government launches its national Growth and Sustainable Development Strategy.
Famous for its beautiful beach islands on the second largest coral reef in the world, a rich ecosystem, and its proximity to the U.S. and other major markets, Belize has great economic opportunities in developing its blue economy. Yet, over the last twelve years GDP per capita has stagnated, and high interest rates, low savings and limited access to finance had negative impacts on the investment climate.
The diagnostic “Belize: Right Choices, Bright Future” notes the progress made in prioritizing investments in education and increasing the country’s environmental resilience. However, more efforts are needed to reach universal primary education and improve the quality of education. Greater quality of climate-resilient infrastructure is also needed as Belize remains among the most vulnerable countries in the world to natural disasters.
“The World Bank welcomes the government’s new Growth and Sustainable Development Strategy that identifies some of the key drivers of growth and lays out a new vision for sustainable development by 2030, which converge with our diagnostic,” said Sophie Sirtaine, World Bank Country Director for the Caribbean. “In spite of positive economic growth over the last 30 years, Belize has had limited social gains. Our report highlights the need for a big push to accelerate progress in education, climate resilience and crime and violence in order put the country back on a path for sustainable growth.”
Key priorities highlighted in the report include:
· Improving education and skills: Only 45 percent of secondary school aged children attend school, substantially lower that the regional average of 80 percent, and one in four children from the bottom 20 percent of the wealth index distribution attend secondary school. With a high level of unemployment ranging between 10 to 12 percent – nearly twice the regional average of 6 percent - some of the measures recommended to improve schooling and skills include: more investment in pre-school education, increasing access to education for the most vulnerable, improving teacher training, and establishing school performance incentives to improve children’s learning.
· Addressing crime and violence: Belize’s homicide rate has increased 150 percent between 2000 and 2010, and was the sixth highest in the world in 2010. Crime and violence not only has a high social cost, but also pose a threat to the country’s competitiveness. Estimated costs to business compares to its Central American neighbors. A greater focus on the drivers of crime and policies to increase the quality of education, keeping children at school and promoting vocational training opportunities for vulnerable youth will be essential.
· Increasing resilience to climate change and natural disasters: the country faces average losses of about 3 percent of GDP due to extreme weather events and with climate change the frequency and intensity of such events is expected to increase. To tackle this, investing in disaster risk management and climate resilient infrastructure will be key.
The report also points out that continued efforts are needed to safeguard fiscal discipline, improve financial inclusion, and improve the quality and availability of data.
This diagnostic is a new instrument to help identify and inform priorities for the World Bank Group’s engagement in each country. Based on the evidence, a new country engagement strategy for the World Bank Group in Belize will be developed in consultation with key stakeholders.