Belize is located on the Central American mainland, forming part of the Yucatan Peninsula and lying between 15°45’and 18°30’north latitude, and 87°30’ and 89°15’ west longitude. It is bounded to the north by Mexico, to the west and south by Guatemala and to the east by the Caribbean Sea. The total land area is 22,960 sq. km. (8,867 square miles) of which 95% is located on the mainland and five per cent is distributed over more than 1,060 islands. Total national territory (including territorial sea) is 46,620 sq. km. (approximately 18,000 square miles).
It is a small Central American state with a long, low-lying coastline which are vulnerable to natural disasters through tropical cyclones and flooding. Three-quarters of its land is covered by forests that support fragile ecosystems. The country lies in the hurricane belt and, on average, is affected by a hurricane every three years (Belize 2002). These hurricanes have adversely affected the people and economy of Belize, as demonstrated by the damage to its agriculture sector in late 2007 and late 2010. Following the threat posed by Hurricane Mitch in October 1998, there has been a review of hurricane preparedness and procedures to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. The scenario of a major disaster such as Hurricane Mitch, and more recently hurricanes Keith and Iris, has served to sensitise the government and general public to climate change issues, mitigation, and especially adaptation.
The country’s agriculture sector generates 71 per cent of its foreign exchange earnings and employs about 29 per cent of its labor force. Key export crops include citrus, sugar, bananas and marine products (such as shrimp). Belize’s largest source of foreign exchange, however, is tourism—a sector of the economy that the government has designated as being a priority for further development (USDS, 2011).
Large sections of the coastline have an elevation of less than one metre to a distance of several kilometers inland. In the north, the land rises to an elevation of approximately 250 meters above sea level (asl) in the extreme west of the country. The central part of the country is dominated by the Maya Mountain/Mountain Pine Ridge massif, rising to 1,124m asl (3688 ft) at its highest point.
Northern Belize has a subtropical climate with an annual rainfall of 1,500 mm (60 inches). Southward, the climate becomes increasingly tropical and annual rainfall increases to 3,800 mm (150 inches). The climate is characterized by marked wet and dry seasons separated by a cool transitional period. The rainy season begins in the south in the middle of May and arrives in the north in mid June. It continues through to November, but most locations experience a drier period in August. Some 60% of annual precipitation occurs during this season, produced primarily by tropical systems including tropical cyclones. The cool transition period occurs from November through February. Rainfall declines and approximately 12 cold fronts cross the country during this period. The true dry season is from February to April and is produced by strong anticyclones in the Atlantic that generate a persistent stable south-easterly airflow across the country.