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Belize, located in Central America, may be a small country, but it has big aspirations for adopting GIS technology. Bordered by Mexico to the north and Guatemala to the south and west, Belize, population, 333,200, is 180 miles long and 68 miles wide. This small area houses a diverse ecosystem ranging from scrubland to wetland that supports an agriculture- and tourism-based economy.
The need to carefully manage natural and man-made resources, combined with requests from local leaders, prompted Belize's Esri distributor, Total Business Solutions Ltd. (TBSL), to host the inaugural Belize GIS User Conference and Exhibition in January 2011.
Presenters from 12 Belizean organizations and five government departments shared their vision for and experience with GIS in a wide range of industries: oil and gas; law enforcement; park management; social mapping; public sector management; and land use, planning, and development. Lynn Young, CEO of Belize Electricity Limited, talked about how his company understands the value of technology in business and how GIS is used to work on strategic objectives and ensure the highest level of customer service at his organization.
To continue sharing knowledge after the event, a Belizean community on ArcGIS Online was established. The ArcGIS Online community has become a springboard for conference participants and others interested in using GIS throughout Belize.
Many efforts are under way to continue adopting GIS, thanks to the collaboration of the conference goers. One project being spearheaded by the government's Land Information Centre will culminate in Belize's national spatial data infrastructure. This initiative has catapulted from the back burner to become the top priority for fiscal year 2011-2012. Discussions are also under way on how the Land Information Centre can provide data services using ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Online.
Simon Thompson, director of commercial industry at Esri and the keynote speaker at the conference, was impressed with the work of GIS users in Belize. "The energy in this community is exciting," said Thompson. "There is so much interest in GIS, from a census count of citrus trees to business applications including risk analysis and lease management. The possibilities for this community are limitless."
Loretta Garcia-Palacio, TBSL president, agreed that there's a hunger to use GIS in Belize. "The conference was able to create a national awareness, and now there is an awakening—an excitement about the potential of GIS technology," Garcia-Palacio said. "About 30 percent of the conference participants had never been exposed to the technology, and now they want more. TBSL plans to use this momentum to garner private-sector support for the development of Belize's national spatial data infrastructure."
The conference was sponsored by Belize Natural Energy, Belize Telemedia Ltd., the Belize Bank, the Belize Land Information Centre, Print Belize Ltd., Brothers Habet, Idealab Studios, Esri, and Trimble Navigation Limited. More than 200 people from 75 organizations attended. The next Belize GIS User Conference and Exhibition will be held in January 2012. Visit www.gis.com.bz.