Poverty in Panama
In the past decade, Panama’s economy has been one of the fastest-growing among its Latin American counterparts, its growth largely due to the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016. Yet, the growth of the economy does not translate to the prosperity of the entire country. According to a CIA analysis, Panama’s income distribution is the second-worst in Latin America. This means that even with a growing economy, poverty in Panama is still a significant issue with many Panamanians living under the poverty line.

Though the Panamanian government allocates fundings to education and social programs, poverty continues to be a significant issue in Panama. Poverty is more significant in certain areas of the country, highlighting the economic inequality within Panama. Factors such as ethnicity, income level and education level all hold influence over one’s access to basic services and opportunities such as education and health care. Here are five facts about poverty in Panama.

5 Facts About Poverty in Panama

  1. Panama’s urban and rural areas have a large wealth disparity: According to the World Bank, 31.94% of the entire population of Panama lived in rural areas in 2019. These areas rarely see the benefits of the recent boost in economic activity, as 27% of the rural population lives in extreme poverty in comparison to 4% in urban areas.
  2. The national poverty rate is decreasing, but it is still high: In 2005, the national poverty rate of Panama was at 38.3%. In 2016, the figure dropped to 22.1%. Although the poverty rate is seeing a downward trend, it is important to put these figures in perspective: over one in five Panamanians is living in poverty.
  3. Poverty affects indigenous people in Panama in particular: Seven indigenous groups exist in Panama and the government often overlooks their rights, such as the rights to their territories. Poverty is especially dominant in rural areas that include mostly indigenous populations. In fact, 86% of the indigenous population lives in poverty and over 90% cannot meet basic needs.
  4. There is a significant gap in health care access: Rural areas often lack the resources to give Panamanians equal access to health care. As indigenous people largely populate rural areas, they often have 11 fewer years in life expectancy than the overall population, at 67.75 years and 79 years respectively.
  5. Some cannot easily obtain education: Because of better access to resources and job opportunities, urban populations are the most educated and enjoy comparatively affluent and healthy lives. Meanwhile, non-indigenous rural poor are more likely to escape poverty through labor migration from rural to urban areas. However, rural areas lack the schools and resources (such as internet connection) to educate their children. According to the World Bank, the gross enrollment rate at primary schools in 2017 was about 87% of the figure in 2007.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Unemployment

There is a sharp difference between the rich and the poor in Panama. In 2017, the top 20% of the population generated 54.2% of the income, while low-income communities had high poverty and unemployment rates. One such community is Colón, a coastal city in Panama that has a 50% unemployment rate. There, inhabitants struggle to pay rent as a result of Panama’s building boom.

Panama’s economy relies heavily on global trade through the Panama Canal as well as its service section, which makes up 75% of the country’s GDP. Both saw a sudden drop in activity as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the country expects to see a rise in unemployment and poverty rates, reversing the Panamanian government’s push to improve poverty rates.

Reducing the Poverty Rate

Though expectations are that Panama’s poverty rate is going to rise due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the overall trend appears to be positive. From 2010 to 2018, the percentage of the population living on under $3.20 USD per day halved, dropping from 10.7% to 5.2%. There has also been an increase in secondary education among rural and indigenous communities. Panama’s $326 million portfolio oversees five active projects that push to improve social protection, governance, disaster risk management, wastewater management and support to the Indigenous Peoples Plan. With economic growth and government policies, Panama has made progress in reducing poverty in recent years.

The government hopes that its continued and further investment in infrastructure and social programs will foster prosperity within the general population through increased opportunities in education and jobs, improving the overall poverty rate of the country and among the poor, rural population.

SOS Children’s Villages International

SOS Children’s Villages International is a nonprofit organization that operates in Panama, fighting poverty through assisting children. At each of its four locations – Panama City, Davíd, Colón and Penonomé – the organization supports the youth population by providing daycare, education, vocational training, playgrounds and sports facilities. In the case that children do not have a home to stay at, the organization provides families for them to stay with. By providing these means of assistance, the organization hopes to decrease the child labor that is prevalent in the region as a result of extreme poverty. With education more accessible and families less financially-burdened, the organization provides crucial resources to improve poverty in both rural and urban areas of Panama.

SOS Children’s Villages International has been operating in the capital city of the Chiriquí province, Davíd, since 1999. Davíd is a city with 180,000 inhabitants and its population is mostly reliant on its agricultural sector. However, 34.6% of the population lives in poverty, over 4,000 children in the province engage in child labor and 58% do not attend school. The organization has helped the children in this province by providing 13 SOS houses for them to live in, assisting them with education and other basic necessities.

While poverty in Panama is a significant issue, it has managed to reduce it in recent years. With continued attention by Panama’s government and organizations like SOS Children’s Villages International, the country should be able to continue its progression in making poverty a thing of the past.

– Mizuki Kai
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Panama
Healthcare in Panama currently exists as a two-branch system in order to both minimize cost and wait times. Private healthcare exists for those who can afford it, but Panama also provides a universal public option to keep healthcare affordable and attainable. Such a system also accommodates citizens of varying financial standings.

Panama’s social security administration, Caja de Seguro Social (CSS), and the Ministerio de Salud (MINSA) cover the publicly administered arm of the healthcare and insurance systems. A private arm is also available for citizens who are not beneficiaries of social security or who would prefer to opt into a privately administered healthcare service.

CSS

CSS operates as both a healthcare provider and an insurance system, funded by taxes. Due to the low unemployment rate in Panama, CSS provides extensive coverage to all those who pay their taxes and acts as a universal healthcare system. It is the largest in the country and covered and estimated 3.4 million poeple in 2013. CSS operates 80 health systems.

MINSA

MINSA also operates 830 health facilities. While their services are not completely free, they are still the least expensive option for low-income Panamanians. MINSA is also the organization that oversees the national health systems and therefore is an important institution for policy formulation and administrative services.

Private Sector

Finally, there are four major health facilities operated privately in Panama, serving primarily highest-income Panamanians. Those with the ability to opt into private hospitals and services experience shorter wait times than those in the public facilities. Patients are reportedly able to schedule surgeries within 2 days, and American recipients of Panamanian healthcare have found that services cost roughly 10% of their American equivalent. The cost of healthcare remains affordable across the board with the cost of a doctor’s visit to Panama City being $50.

Public Sector Expansion

Starting in 2012, the CSS began the largest expansion of the public health system in Panama by breaking ground on a new medical city, dubbed Cuidad Hospitalaria in Panama City. This project will add 1700 beds, 40 surgery rooms, and 200 emergency room beds. Originally estimated to be completed in 2015, a series of delays have pushed back the completion of the project, with 65% completed as of 2020. Current estimations project completion and operation by 2022.

COVID-19

Like many countries around the world, Panama has been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19. The pandemic has put immense strain on Panama’s health systems, particularly the public hospitals. As of July 11, Panama has reported 42,000 cases with 839 deaths. This is the most reported of any country within the region.

Authorities report that roughly 20% of infected people need hospital treatment, meaning that hospitals admit about 200 people a day in Panama due to COVID-19.

This health crisis is putting unbearable stress on Panama’s public health system with hospitals experiencing PPE shortages, burnout among health professionals and the need to create temporary health treatment campuses to compensate for the overpopulation of beds in established hospitals.

This system provides affordable services to every Panamanian, regardless of income level, with the public arm undergoing a dramatic expansion to provide for the public health of the population even further.

Ian Hawthorne
Photo: Flickr

Access to Clean Water For Panama's Indigenous CommunitiesAccess to clean water and sanitation resources is a major issue in Panama. While this is an obstacle for all citizens, Panama’s indigenous communities are disproportionately affected. There are six major indigenous communities in Panama: Naso, Bri Bri, Ngobe-Bugle, Bokata, Guna and Embera-Wounaan. These indigenous groups make up around 200,000 of Panama’s population. Many indigenous communities are poverty-stricken. Only 9% of indigenous communities in Panama are not living in poverty and have access to clean water resources.

Lack of Clean Water for Indigenous Communities in Panama

The lack of necessary resources leads to health problems for indigenous communities in Panama. There are several diseases associated with a lack of clean water, such as diarrhea and dysentery. Indigenous communities often have no choice but to use unclean water sources. Location, especially in remote areas, can be a major obstacle to accessing clean water in Panama.

United Nations Joint Programme

Several programs are working to help indigenous communities access clean water in Panama. The United Nations is working toward a solution through its “Joint Programme on Water and Sanitation for Dispersed Rural and Indigenous Communities in Nicaragua, Panama, and Paraguay.” The U.N.’s program worked to educate local populations about managing their water process. Its goal was to ensure more widespread access to clean water and proper sanitation. By tackling the problem in this way, the U.N. was seeking a long term and sustainable solution. The U.N.’s project developed under the Millenium Development Goals Fund. It assists in sustaining economic advances for indigenous communities.

Sanitation Information System

After the program, the U.N. gained assistance from The Rural Water and Sanitation Information System (SIASAR). The companies’ goal was to provide Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay with accurate information about the success and quality of the newly acquired water resources. The data from SIASAR focuses on four categories: system, community, service provider and technical assistance. SIASAR data showed that over 60,000 households now have access to clean water, while 19,000 remain without access.

Solea Water

Solea Water has also been helping increase access to clean water in Panama. One of Solea Water‘s main goals is to ensure that indigenous communities are empowered to control and sustain their development of water sources. The organization assists indigenous people with their work and programs. Solea water also asks indigenous people to help with the programs the organization itself has started. The organization’s goal is to ensure a sense of understanding and growth by working together.

Solea Water recently completed a project, with the assistance of the residents in La Reserva, called “La Reserva Panama Project Report”. The report displays the lack of water sources for residents in La Reserva over a long period of time. Solea Water’s project helped the La Reserva community access clean water again.

According to a 2019 annual report released by Solea Water, it raised over $52,000 worth of funds for completed and future projects. This has allowed Solea Water to help close to 2,700 people around Panama. Solea Water has completed almost 50 projects and has helped a total of 25,000 people since 2015.

Indigenous communities in Panama continue to struggle with accessing clean water. Alongside this issue is a lack of resources in general and a high level of poverty among indigenous communities. Location has continued to affect their access to resources. Multiple organizations are dedicated to helping indigenous communities access clean water in Panama. The United Nations is working to improve access through a water and sanitation program in Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay. Solea Water has also worked to help indigenous communities empower themselves and sustain growth from their joint projects.
Jamal Patterson
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Among Indigenous Peoples in Central America
Indigenous people in Central America have struggled against prejudice and a lack of visibility for hundreds of years. This struggle to maintain their place throughout the region has taken a toll on the living conditions and health among their communities. Here is more information about poverty among indigenous peoples in Central America.

Costa Rica

Approximately 1.5 percent of the population of Costa Rica is made up of indigenous people. They are considered among the most marginalized and economically excluded minorities in Central America. Approximately 95 percent of people living in Costa Rica have access to electricity. The majority of indigenous peoples in the country are included in the remaining five percent. Many believe this is due to a lack of attention from the government in the concerns of indigenous people and the living conditions in their communities.

A lack of education is also a problem among indigenous peoples in Costa Rica. The average indigenous child in Costa Rica receives only 3.6 years of schooling and 30 percent of the indigenous population is illiterate. In the hopes of reaching out to indigenous communities and reducing their poverty rates, the University of Costa Rica instituted a plan in 2014 to encourage admissions from indigenous peoples from across the country. By 2017, the program was involved in the mentoring of 400 indigenous high school students and saw 32 new indigenous students applying for the university.

Guatemala

Indigenous peoples make up about 40 percent of the population in Guatemala and approximately 79 percent of the indigenous population live in poverty. Forty percent of the indigenous population lives in extreme poverty. With these levels of poverty among the indigenous people, many are forced to migrate, as the poorest are threatened with violence among their communities. Ninety-five percent of those under the age of 18 who migrate from Guatemala are indigenous.

One organization working to improve the living conditions for indigenous people in Guatemala is the Organization for the Development of the Indigenous Maya (ODIM). ODIM, which was started with the intention to support the indigenous Maya people, focuses on providing health care and education to indigenous people in Guatemala. One program it supports is called “Healthy Mommy and Me,” which focuses on offering mothers and their young children access to health care, food and education. These efforts are benefiting 250 indigenous women and children across Guatemala.

Honduras

In Honduras, 88.7 percent of indigenous children lived in poverty in 2016. Approximately 44.7 percent of indigenous adults were unemployed. Nineteen percent of the Honduran indigenous population is illiterate, in comparison to 13 percent of the general population. Despite the wide span of indigenous peoples across Honduras, they struggle to claim ownership of land that belonged to their ancestors. Only 10 percent of indigenous people in Honduras have a government-accredited land title.

Due to the poverty indigenous people in Honduras face, many seek opportunities in more urban areas, but the cities simply don’t have the capacity to support them all. As a result, many settle just outside of the cities to be close to opportunities. There are more than 400 unofficial settlements near the capital of Honduras, Tegucigalpa. Despite the difficulties they face in living just outside of a city that has no room for them, being in urban areas does have its benefits for indigenous people. Ninety-four percent of indigenous people living in urban Honduras are literate, versus 79 percent in rural areas.

For those among the indigenous peoples in Honduras who struggle with poverty, Habitat for Humanity has put a special focus on indigenous people in its construction programs. Habitat for Humanity worked with different ethnic groups within the indigenous community to provide homes for those most in need, reaching 13,810 people throughout Honduras.

Panama

Poverty affects more than 70 percent of indigenous people in Panama. Among their communities, health problems and a lack of access to clean water are common.

In 2018, the World Bank approved a project to improve health, education, water and sanitation among 12 different indigenous groups in Panama. The Comprehensive National Plan for Indigenous Peoples of Panama aims to implement positive development in indigenous communities while protecting and maintaining the culture within those communities.

The aim of this project is to create a positive relationship between indigenous peoples and the government in Panama to further developments of their communities down the road. It is projected to assist some 200,000 people through improved living conditions and infrastructure among indigenous communities.

With poor access to an education and a certain level of prejudice fueling a wage gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people, natives globally face a unique challenge in their efforts to escape poverty. In many countries around the world, indigenous people are forgotten and often fall to the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. This creates particularly difficult circumstances for indigenous peoples of regions that already have high poverty rates overall. However, people like those who work with the World Bank are working to see a reduction in poverty among indigenous peoples in Central America and see that indigenous people are not forgotten and are no longer neglected.

Amanda Gibson
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Panama
Situated as the southernmost country in Central America between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Panama has a population of nearly four million people across 29,000 square miles and a terrain which includes rainforests, mountains, beaches, wetlands and pasture land. The capital, Panama City, has a population of under half a million. Panama’s strongest industries include import/export, banking and tourism. It has enjoyed economic stability and growth, which can translate to good health and long life expectancy when residents can access education, health care, water and sanitation resources equitably. Here are the 10 facts about life expectancy in Panama.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Panama

  1. The first of the 10 facts about life expectancy in Panama is that currently, the average life expectancy of a man in Panama is 76.1 and 81.9 for a woman. This averages to 78.9 for the entire population. Panama ranks 58th worldwide for life expectancy.
  2. In Panama, the leading causes of death are chronic, noncommunicable conditions such as circulatory diseases (diabetes and heart disease). Diet, high blood pressure or smoking can cause these. Panama has taken action by implementing the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and passing legislation guaranteeing smoke-free environments. The United Nations suggests dietary guidelines for healthy eating and recently added recommendations for children under 2 years of age.
  3. Traffic accidents in Panama are on the rise. The World Health Organization reports a road traffic death rate of 14.3 per 100,000 in 2016, while that number was only 10 per 100,000 in 2013 with 386 actual deaths. While the law in Panama requires seatbelt use, hazardous conditions due to lack of road maintenance, poor signage and overly congested highways are causes of this increase in accidents. Investment in roads and highway infrastructure could lower the number of deaths.
  4. The WHO reports that homicides in Panama are decreasing. In 2010, there were 23.4 homicides per year per 100,000 and in 2015 that number went down to 18.7. More than six times as many men suffer homicide in Panama than women (32.3 men per 100,000 compared to 4.9 women per 100,000). Young people between ages 15 and 29 are the most frequent targets of homicide (40.5 per 100,000). Strong laws are in place to combat violence in relation to firearms and alcohol and the WHO reports effective enforcement of laws against intimate partner violence and elder abuse. Panama could make improvements in the areas of enforcement of sexual violence and child maltreatment laws.
  5. Because of Panama’s tropical climate and wet, forested areas, mosquito-transmitted illnesses such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever pose a risk for Panamanians. Death is more likely in vulnerable people, such as infants. When new outbreaks arise, such as with the Zika virus, the WHO monitors transmission and infections closely in case they become widespread or pose a risk to travelers in the region. People can transmit the Zika virus sexually and it can also pass from mother to fetus. Microcephaly, a severe birth defect linked to Zika, poses a risk to the fetus of pregnant women, though death is rare. The WHO reports one death of a premature infant. Another disease that has limited impact in Panama is the hantavirus (linked to contact with rodents). The WHO reports approximately 100 cases with only four total deaths occurring. There is no treatment or vaccine for the hantavirus. Recommendations state to control the rodent population to prevent it.
  6. Panama saw 1,968 new cases of tuberculosis in 2017 (co-occurring with HIV in 90 percent of patients). TB and HIV are amongst the leading causes of premature death in Panama. People with HIV have more compromised immune systems, leaving them more vulnerable to contracting TB. Panama spends $1.9 million each year treating and combating TB and HIV. Relapse of patients and drug-resistance pose particular challenges. Tuberculosis affects twice as many males as women, and the greatest incidence is among people ages 25-34 years.
  7. Mortality in young children has steadily declined in recent years. Deaths of children under 5 in 1990 were 27.2 per 1,000 live births, and in 2017, 17.2.  Deaths of children under 1 per year in 1990 were 20.9 per 1,000 live births, and in 2017, 13.4. Between 2007 and 2017, neonatal disorders dropped from number one to number three as a cause of premature death, and congenital defects dropped from number four to number six. These statistics are a result of a dramatic improvement in maternal and infant care for non-indigenous rural Panamanian women through a program called Health Protection for Vulnerable Populations, instituted in collaboration with the World Bank and the Minister of Health.
  8. The education of girls in Panama is important to life expectancy and maternal health. UNICEF reports that girls with no education receive 30 percent less antenatal care compared with those who have received a secondary education. The antenatal care is beneficial to learn about life-threatening risks in childbirth such as eclampsia, as well as immunization against tetanus and HIV testing and medication to prevent perinatal transmission of HIV. UNICEF calls for increased equity in antenatal and postnatal care particularly for indigenous women and infants in Panama.
  9. The upcoming Burunga Wastewater Management Project will address the serious health risks posed by untreated wastewater. The World Bank cites the lack of Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) as a major risk to public health. Currently, people dump untreated water into several rivers in the areas of Arraijan and La Chorrera. Despite economic growth in Panama, impoverished people will continue to be vulnerable to reduced life expectancy because of waterborne illnesses such as giardiasis and cholera, especially without updates to infrastructure in rural areas with attention to access to clean water and sanitation.
  10. In 2018, The World Bank approved an $80 million project in Panama called the Comprehensive National Plan for the Indigenous Peoples of Panama. This project has the aim of improving health, education, water and sanitation for indigenous people who are more vulnerable to natural disasters, for example. Built into the plan is a goal to develop the cultural relevance of programs. In order for life expectancy measures to continue to improve, Panama must equitably address the needs of indigenous as well as rural groups.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Panama show that the country faces ongoing challenges in health care, but measures of life expectancy are hopeful and improving. With follow through on projects to assist the indigenous and rural people, and ongoing investment in infrastructure, Panama should continue to rise in the ranks amongst the world’s flourishing, healthy and stable nations.

– Susan Niz
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America
Central America, which includes Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, is a diverse geographical region housing almost 50 million people. With a wealth of natural resources, Central America has the potential for sustainable and rigorous economic growth as it seeks to mitigate political unrest and economic inequality. Within this context, here are 10 facts about economic development in Central America.

10 Facts About Economic Development in Central America

  1. Central America is an Agricultural Powerhouse: The backbone of Central America’s economy relies on agricultural exports, such as coffee, bananas and pineapples. For example, agriculture comprises 24 percent of Costa Rica’s total GDP and 17 percent of Panama’s total GDP. In 2001, agriculture employed approximately 34 percent of Honduras.
  2. Central America’s Growing Tourism Industry: Belize and El Salvador contribute to Central America’s robust tourism industry. In Belize, tourism is the most important economic sector in the country next to agriculture. In 2017, El Salvador reported a 23.2 percent annual growth rate from domestic tourism. El Salvador expects to generate $75.5 million from its tourism industry in 2019.
  3. Severe Weather and Foreign Aid: In the wake of Hurricane Nate, Costa Rica alone reported $562 million in damages, severely crippling its agricultural and transportation industries. In response, USAID provided $150,000 to support immediate humanitarian efforts. More recently, in 2018, El Fuego erupted in Guatemala affecting approximately 1.7 million people. World Vision, a non-profit organization, responded by sending 30,000 boxes of medical supplies to affected regions.
  4. Tepid Economic Growth: One of the key 10 facts about economic development in Central America that informs policy-making is an analysis of GDP growth and poverty rates. As a whole, Central America has an average poverty rate of 34.2 percent. Guatemala has the highest rate of 59 percent as of 2014. Mitigating these poverty rates is difficult since GDP growth has slowly decelerated in many Central American countries. In the case of Honduras, declining prices for agricultural exports have left its main industries struggling. People expect Honduras’ GDP to grow with the decline in poverty. The nation’s poverty rate came down to 3.6 percent in 2019, from 4.8 percent in 2017.
  5. Political Uncertainty and Economic Expectations: Since 2018, many Nicaraguans protested the political oppression of their president, Daniel Ortega. They believe he is tamping out political opposition from human rights groups and using the poor to maintain political power. This recent political upheaval has alarmed investors, who have withdrawn an estimated $634 million according to Bloomberg. In this tumultuous climate, the International Monetary Fund believes Nicaragua’s economy could spiral into recession with unemployment climbing to 10 percent.
  6. Underinvestment in Infrastructure: Due to extreme weather and political upheaval, Central America often lacks the infrastructure to mobilize its economy. Central American countries spend only around two percent of their total GDP on transportation and infrastructure. Panama is a testament to the benefits of investing in infrastructure. The revenue generated from the Cobre Panama mine and the Panama canal gave the nation an average GDP growth rate of 5.6 percent over the past five years.
  7. Maintaining Trade Agreements: One way Central American countries have greatly benefited in terms of economic development is through maintaining trade agreements like CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement). Between 2006 and 2016, Central America’s total trade with the U.S. increased by 17 percent and with the world, 20 percent.
  8. Grassroots Technology and Collaboration: Grassroots organizations have achieved economic success. For example, The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) partnered with Nicaragua and Peru to promote agricultural productivity in its host country of Colombia. The CIAT has 51 active projects in Central America and 15 projects currently in Nicaragua. Such projects include investments in innovative technology that would make the rural family’s crops more resilient and more abundant.
  9. The Future is Technical: Costa Rica has successfully created a robust medical-device manufacturing industry dating back to 1987. It now generates $4 billion in exports for the country. Even more surprising, in 2017, medical device exports surpassed agricultural products for the first time in the nation’s history. Costa Rica boasts quality human resources and manufacturing and houses 96 operating firms in the medical device manufacturing sector.
  10. The Exemplary Success of Panama: Many expect Panama’s GDP to grow at six percent compared to 3.6 percent in 2018 and the country has cut its poverty rate from 15.4 percent to 14.1 percent. Panama’s performance comes from investing in industries like mining, transportation and logistics. In order to continue to compete in the global economy, Panama must continue to invest in education. One initiative in the U.S. that is investing in education in Panama is the Environmental Education Through the Transformation of Schools into Eco-friendly and Sustainable Schools program at Johns Hopkins University. Its goal is to educate Panama’s students on how to make their public school system more environmentally friendly.

Central America has positioned itself well for future economic prosperity based on this brief analysis of 10 facts about economic development in Central America. In order to accelerate Central America’s path of economic growth, World Vision has run a program in Guatemala since the 1970s that provides sponsorships, education, health and protective rights to children. Other organizations, like CIAT, have more than 60 programs in the Central American regions.

– Luke Kwong
Photo: Flickr

Top Ten Facts About Living Conditions In Panama
Panama is a country that has experienced impressive economic growth since 2000 when it acquired ownership of the Panama Canal from the United States. However, while urban areas have experienced economic growth the opposite is true in the country’s rural areas. Listed below are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Panama.

Top 10 Facts About living conditions in Panama

  1. Panama is a leader among its Latin American and Caribbean counterparts in terms of poverty reduction. Using the national poverty line as a point of reference, Panama was able to reduce poverty from 39.9 percent to 26.2 percent and extreme poverty from 15.6 percent to 11.3 percent between 2007 and 2012.
  2. Panama has experienced a period of high economic growth within the past decade. Between 2001 and 2013 the average annual growth was 7.2 percent, making the country one of the fast-growing economies in the world. The transfer of the Canal to Panama has played a huge role in this regard. In addition, with a $5.25 billion expansion of the canal, Panama is thriving as a logistics trade hub and a financial center that sees 4 percent of all global trade pass through its waters.
  3. Although strong growth and poverty reduction are two of the top 10 facts about living conditions in Panama, there is inconsistency in the regional spread of such improvements. Urban extreme poverty fell 40 percent between 2007 and 2012; in rural areas, the decline was 15 percent and in the indigenous territories only 4 percent. The groups with the lowest incomes and greatest dependence on social assistance are the indigenous populations.
  4. Economic and social development among indigenous groups in Panama falls behind that of other indigenous groups in Latin America. Compared to its Latin American counterparts, Panama has the lowest level of electricity coverage among the indigenous population and the largest gap between indigenous and non-indigenous populations (52 percentage points compared to the next largest gap of 38 percentage points in Colombia). The situation is similar in terms of sanitation and piped water. In the indigenous people’s territories, poverty is almost universal and persistent.
  5. In the absence of sanitation, electricity, clean water and other infrastructure accompanied by poverty and poor health knowledge one NGO, Floating Doctors, works to provide free acute and preventative health care services. Using a boat to access Panama’s most remote areas Floating Doctors operates over a 10,000 square mile area of mangrove mazes and jungle-covered mountainous terrain in which they are often the only medical service available. Utilizing qualified volunteers the organization has provided health care to over 60,000 patients in Panama who would otherwise not have access to health care.
  6. Panama’s health care sector has seen significant advancement in recent years and the country is now closer than ever to achieving universal coverage. The government has remained committed to improving access and increasing efficiency, with an emphasis on expanding public infrastructure including the construction of five major regional hospitals in 2014 that will serve approximately 17 percent of the population.
  7. There is a major difference between the extremely poor and the rest of the population. The heads of extremely poor households in Panama have only 5.1 years of education — 4.5 fewer than the national average. This is largely due to difficulties in accessing educational institutions; students in rural areas face treacherous flooding during the rainy season and often stop attending school altogether. In addition, the households of the extremely poor have much higher dependency ratios, driven by a much greater share of young children, and lower life expectancy.
  8. One of the most distinctive of the top 10 facts about living conditions in Panama is from the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2014/15 which ranks Panama 83rd out of 144 countries for the quality of its education system, eight spots lower than the previous period. The report also attributes the drop to the mismatch between educational offerings and labor market needs. Primary enrollment in Panama is almost universal and secondary enrollments are increasing however retention in secondary education is low and there are concerns about the quality and relevance of the education system for the present job market.
  9. The Panamanian government has developed a 5-year Strategic Development Plan for 2015-2019 based on inclusion and competition. The government’s goals include initiatives designed to enhance productivity and diversify growth, enhance the quality of life, strengthen human capital, improve infrastructure, and improve environmental sustainability and management.
  10. UNICEF plans to cooperate with the Panamanian government by supporting national and local public institutions to develop policies and programs that contribute to every child in Panama being able to develop in conditions of equity and equality. In addition, alliances with different sectors will be promoted to reduce the disparities that affect the indigenous and afro-descendant population.

Panama, a country with a growing economy, has a drastically unequal distribution of resources and opportunity. It is important to understand the top 10 facts about living conditions in Panama in order for political leaders to address these issues.

– Paul Logsdon
Photo: Google

international hurricane relief

Hurricane season: a three-month span between the months of June and November when people from Panama to Maine brace for destructive and often deadly wind and rain. These large storms, often the size of small countries, can bring winds from 74 mph at their weakest to well over 100 mph at their strongest, dumping large quantities of rain as they move across land and sea. The warm waters of the mid-Atlantic and Caribbean help feed these spinning storms, which can lumber along at 30 to 70 mph. Due to their immense size, the amount of precipitation often causes flooding in areas along a hurricane’s path. Combine this with high winds, and areas often hit by powerful hurricanes regularly need international hurricane relief.

Hurricanes begin their life in the mid-Atlantic, either off the coast of Western Africa or over the middle of the ocean. From there they move in swinging arcs and paths that are difficult to predict for the coast of Central America, the Caribbean islands, the Southern United States and the Eastern Seaboard. Since these storms hit so many countries and often leave devastation in their wake, state-sponsored organizations, NGOs and privately-funded charities offer international hurricane relief. Many of these charities also operate in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Following are examples of organizations that provide international hurricane relief.

USAID

The United States Agency for International Development is the main arm of the United States effort to aid its neighbors and other nations around the world. USAID provides both long-term aid programs and disaster relief programs, and International Hurricane aid provided by USAID reflects this. Programs already operating in nations in the hurricane danger zone are provided with funding and technical assistance to help people when disaster strikes. Being prepared beforehand can help to save many lives. USAID also utilizes their Disaster Assistance Response Teams, or DART’s. During the 2017 hurricane season, DART teams provided aid and organization to 11 locations in six different countries. Through USAID, the United States provided nearly $23 million in aid. Everything from chainsaws to desalination units was flown in on 55 air missions which delivered 155 metric tons of supplies. Approximately 83,000 people were helped by this DART mission.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent

While many hurricanes strike impoverished or underprepared countries, they also strike the United States. When they hit the United States, the large storms do not discriminate. Wealthy and poorer areas alike are usually struck, and it is only after the hurricane that money matters. This was evidenced during Hurricane Katrina. 

The American Red Cross society not only prepares and responds to the worst in the United States; they also provide international hurricane relief to other countries hit by the severe storms. The American Red Cross emphasizes preparedness. A main focus of the organization is to pre-position supplies so they can be easily accessed during and after a storm.

On the American Red Cross’ website, useful advice for preparing for a natural disaster such as a hurricane can be found. This simple advice includes making sure that you have a store of freshwater, learning your evacuation routes if evacuation is an option and keeping an emergency kit stocked. Advice on what a person or a family should do before, during and after a hurricane can also be found.

Habitat For Humanity

Habitat for Humanity works in the United States and around the world, focusing on three main activities: neighborhood revitalization, homebuilding and disaster relief. International hurricane relief is part of their expansive disaster relief program. One division of this program is called Habitat Hammers, which works to rebuild houses after natural disasters. Habitat Hammers missions were launched from Texas to Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricane season. Over the next five years, Habitat for Humanity will help families affected by the hurricanes which hit Puerto Rico in 2017. According to the government, more than 780,000 houses were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by the hurricanes. Habitat Hammers will work to build and rebuild houses with families in Puerto Rico.

How You Can Help

Records indicate that hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones are becoming stronger and more frequent as ocean temperatures rise. Devastating storms year after year will increase, and agencies and charities around the world will need help. This can be provided through donations to organizations like the American Red Cross, or by traveling to disaster areas as a volunteer or aid worker. It is a large planet, but in the end, we are all neighbors.

– Nicholas Anthony DeMarco
Photo: Flickr

How the US Benefits from Foreign Aid to Panama
Panama is the dividing landmass between two major water sources, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. A small sliver of a country, Panama is only 115 miles at its widest; such a small country should not by any means be an influencer in international affairs, but with the building of the Panama canal by the United States in 1914, Panama became perhaps the most prolific trading country in the world. As a result, the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Panama in many ways, especially in access to trade and finances.

Fruitful Waters

According a National Geographic article, nearly 14,000 ships pass through the canal a year. Due to the length of time it takes to move through the canal (approximately eight to ten hours), the canal is a difficult route to navigate, but is crucial to increasing the speed with which shipping companies transfer goods between companies. Panama and the U.S. have had a friendly relationship since the conception of the canal, and it has continued into trading deals.

Location, Location, Location

The U.S. Department of State describes the ways the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Panama incredibly simply: “Panama’s location and role in global trade makes its success vital to U.S. prosperity and national security.” However, it also notes that the Panama Canal is a hub for traffickers and illegal activity as well. Due to this, the U.S. greatly assists in Panama’s anti-corruption and anti-trafficking policy building and free-trade agreements in the area.

Police Presence

One main interest in Panama is building a strong police presence in the region, due to the amount of cargo coming and going through the canal’s system. The more the U.S. and Panama regulate the canal, the less opportunity traffickers have to transport illegal goods to other countries.

Trading and Transportation

Similarly, the U.S. is incredibly invested in the trading and transportation policies around the canal, because not only is the U.S. one of the biggest investors in the canal, but it is also one of its main users. The Canal’s official website offers a graphic which shows all of the major import/export trade routed through the Panama Canal, and each route begins or ends in the U.S. So not only does Panama benefit from the finances and security the U.S. provides, but the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Panama by ensuring access to a major trading route that greatly benefits the U.S.

Mutual Benefits

The U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Panama through mutually assured success of U.S. involvement in trade routes and Panama’s maintenance of a secure canal system. As long as the U.S. continues to support anti-trafficking efforts in Panama and help the nation monetarily, it is almost impossible for the U.S. to lose this benefactory system.

– Molly Atchison

Photo: Flickr

Consumer Credit Access in Panama Continues to Expand

Reports from 2014 highlighted good news in the Panamanian economy. Continued years of growth particularly helped the credit sector, and lending was increasing at rates of more than 10 percent per year. This was a healthy rate in comparison with similar rates of overall economic growth in the country. Consumer lending was not left behind during this boom, and household credit access in Panama increased at rates nearly on par with general growth.

This increase in credit access in Panama was great news for its developing domestic economy. Panama’s strategic location and the canal linking some of the world’s most-traveled shipping lanes have made it a center of commerce since the early 20th century. However, despite countless international commercial links, many of Panama’s people did not see the benefits of strong development until a century after the opening of the canal. A new government measure of poverty released in 2017 showed that nearly a fifth of the population was living in significant poverty.

The strong growth reported in 2014 was followed by further increases in small household lending in Panama as microfinance products began to increase their offerings in Panama. In 2017, the government of Panama revised a large number of regulations to assist microfinance and its effects in reducing poverty in the country. This was joined by the creation of REDPAMIF, a nongovernmental microfinance network, to assist lenders in creating a fertile environment for the success of expanding credit operations.

Small consumer lenders in Panama are following the pattern of successful development and small lending projects worldwide in diversifying their offerings. From the same 2017 report, 40 percent of the microlending portfolio in Panama is in loans to women. Similarly, in a highly urban country (nearly three out of four Panamanians live in the metropolitan area of Panama City), 13 percent of their loans are disbursed to rural borrowers.

Panama’s economy has continued to improve rapidly. An investment to expand the canal, which opened to new and larger shipping vessels in June 2016, has paid off in rates of growth that are outpacing most of the rest of the world. With good management and continued success in innovative development trends, credit access in Panama and the country’s poverty rate should continue to improve in the coming years as well.

– Paul Robertson

Photo: Flickr