Human Trafficking in Panama
Panama, among other countries in Central America, is “a path to displacement for South American and extra-continental migrants,” says the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC). According to the U.S. Department of State’s trafficking profile of Panama, human traffickers exploit both domestic and foreign victims 

 What to Know About Human Trafficking

Each year, the Department of State issues trafficking persons reports for each country. The U.S. Department of State makes it clear that human traffickers prey on all ages, genders, nationalities and backgrounds for profit. Homeland Security defines human trafficking as the “use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” The International Labor Organization (ILO) released Global Estimates of Modern Day Slavery in September 2022. The Global Estimates of Modern Day Slavery estimated 27.6 million victims worldwide at any given time in 2021.

It is important to know that two main categories fall under human trafficking including forced labor and sex trafficking. Within each category, there are three elements including acts, means and purpose that are essential in forming a human trafficking violation. It embodies an array of activities that involve coercion, fraud or force to exploit labor. Domestic servitude falls under forced labor in which a victim is working in a private residence. Under this umbrella is also forced child labor, where children are compelled to work under traffickers’ forced labor schemes.

Similar to labor trafficking, children fall victim to sex trafficking. Sex trafficking occurs when one uses force, fraud or coercion to pressure one into commercial sex acts. In cases where the individual is under 18, the means element is extraneous regardless of evidence of force, fraud or coercion, prohibiting the use of children in commercial sex acts in the U.S. and many other countries.

Human Trafficking in Panama

While most cases involve women from South and Central America, this does not exclude men, children and other individuals. Panama’s National Anti-Trafficking Commission reported 16 confirmed trafficking victims in 2021. Of the 16 victims, seven were sex trafficking victims and the other nine were labor trafficking victims.

Panama’s government indicated that more than two-thirds of Panama’s traffickers are foreign nationals from the People’s Republic of China, Columbia and Venezuela. Of the traffickers in Panama, about half are men. In the trafficking profile, it mentioned that children tend to be exploited by traffickers into domestic servitude and sex trafficking in Panama.

The government slightly decreased prosecution efforts for human trafficking in Panama. One can see the decrease in prosecution in three articles. Article 456 of the penal code does not criminalize all forms of sex and labor trafficking because there needs to be movement to initiate a trafficking offense. Trafficking offenses involving adults resulted in 15 to 20 years imprisonment, while offenses involving children are 20 to 30 years. This article conflicts with international law because it relies on fraud, force and coercion rather than the three essential elements.

Article 180 criminalizes commercial sex exploitations with seven to nine years imprisonment with a fine of 5,200 balboas. Article 186 criminalizes commercial sex acts from a child with a five to eight-year sentence. These two articles offer a lighter sentence for sex traffickers by charging them with non-trafficking offenses.

Solving Human Trafficking in Panama

Different projects and campaigns are launching to solve the human trafficking problem in Panama. UNDOC launched a campaign to make September the month against human trafficking in Panama. In doing so, UNDOC and the Ministry of Security (MINSEG) joined forces in a joint project to establish a shelter for human trafficking victims, develop a booklet for shelter for victims and develop and implement a Master Training Plan that covers different areas in the public and private sectors.

UNDOC also founded the Blue Heart Prevention Campaign in four Central American countries including Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador). The campaign’s objective is to raise awareness across the world about human trafficking as well as its effects on people and society through the stories of its victims. The Blue Heart Prevention Campaign is trying to prevent further cases while encouraging entities from the government, civil society and corporate sector to help.

The Blue Heart Prevention Campaign donates all proceeds to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking Persons. This provides vital assistance and protection to victims of human trafficking.

In 2014, Panama joined the Blue Heart Prevention Campaign and is making small strides toward solving human trafficking in Panama. The campaign hosted the Blue Heart Gala Concert where music held great power in bringing individuals together in the fight against human trafficking. More than 600 people attended the concert where the country’s National Symphony Orchestra and the Nemeth Quartet from Turkey performed.

Looking Ahead

Supporters across the globe continue to raise money and awareness for victims of human trafficking in Panama, but it still is not enough. Panama has a ways to go to meet the required standards for the elimination of human trafficking. With more focus returned to the prosecution of traffickers, it is possible that Panama can reach the required standards that the U.S. Department of State.

Brianna Green
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in PanamaAccording to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), human trafficking is the “third most lucrative business for organized crime,” and the 2021 Global Organized Crime Index has shown that Central America has become a hub for the world’s “most profitable criminal economies.” However, Panama is one of the countries in the region working towards fighting human trafficking, In 2019, there were 61 detected cases of human trafficking compared with 46 in the previous year. These are four essential facts to know about human trafficking in Panama.

4 Facts about Human Trafficking in Panama

  1. The Darien Gap – The Darien Gap is the uninhabitable rainforest region separating Colombia and Panama. Every year, thousands of migrants attempt to reach the United States and North America in hopes of fleeing civil unrest and violence. According to UNICEF’s 2022 records, around 32,500 children have walked through this region, with half being younger than 5 years old. The hostile terrain and lack of infrastructure have made the journey one of the most dangerous routes where lawlessness is rife. Additionally, this has been a route for human trafficking since 2010.
  2. Targeted Demographic – According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are roughly 13,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Panama, which leaves thousands at risk of being exploited. Venezuelans (as of October 2022, there are approximately 145,9000 living in Panama) and Haitians fleeing civil unrest (who accounted for 80% of those trying to cross the Darien Gap in 2021) make up a substantial portion. The agency is committed to protecting their rights and helping those at risk. In 2022, for example, more than 2,300 refugees received multipurpose cash vouchers which helped meet basic needs. Many victims of human trafficking in Central America were women and girls experiencing sexual exploitation. A submarket has been identified in Panama where women are “trafficked from far afield to cater for wealthier interests.”
  3. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) – The TVPA is a U.S. law that gives the government resources to “mount a comprehensive and coordinated campaign to eliminate modern forms of slavery domestically and internationally.” Panama currently has a Tier 2 which means that the government is not meeting the minimum requirements to eradicate human trafficking in the country but is making significant improvements.
  4. The ‘3 P’s’ Framework: Protection, prosecution and prevention are TVPA assessment criteria. The U.S. Department of State publishes a report annually, an assessment of the country’s attempts to reduce human trafficking. The report also outlines example methods for each section of the framework. Panama has the most success under the prevention section. These actions included: raising awareness in 2020 through seminars, television and radio channels, a public phone hotline (311) for people to report cases, and increased coordination meetings.


TVPA is just one example of an essential piece of legislation currently in place to tackle human trafficking in Panama. Governments and global organizations are coming together to raise awareness and actively change rates of human trafficking. Below are two examples of campaigns working within Panama to do so.

  • The International Organization for Migration (IOM) – The IOM is a United Nations organization with operations in Panama. Its purpose is to execute projects that prevent human trafficking and improve security. For example, in June 2021, training sessions were organized to raise awareness for government officials and officers at entry points. Over 100 civil servants in different regions in Panama were trained. Idiam Osorio (an IOM Senior Project Assistant based in Panama) has spoken out in favor of educating and training officials, especially as it is ‘’one of the great challenges in the fight again human trafficking.’’ Health, legal support, emergency, and post-crisis support are other areas in which the IOM supports vulnerable communities.
  • The Blue Heart Campaign against Human Trafficking – Panama joined this campaign in 2014 to raise awareness against human trafficking, becoming one of 30 countries officially supporting this program. The Blue Heart Campaign is the leading advocacy campaign of UNODC. The method of raising awareness is through sharing stories and testimonies of victims. Mobilization of key organizations (such as governments, NGOs and the media) is another significant aim of the movement to combat human trafficking in Panama. For example, Rodolfo Aguilera (Minister of Public Security) and Aldo Lale-Demoz (UNODC Deputy Executive Director Aldo Lale-Dermoz) launched this campaign together with other officials present in Panama. President Juan Carlos Varela signed the Blue Heart Pact to symbolize his administration’s pledge to tackle trafficking. The logo is also important to note because it represents solidarity with victims and the cold-heartedness of criminals. The U.N.’s brand color is blue, again showing the U.N.’s dedication to the campaign.

Current actions toward change seem promising. Hopefully, in the future, human trafficking in Panama will be eradicated and meet all the criteria of Tier 1 of TVPA by implementing systems that will prevent future cases for good.

– Taran Dhillon
Photo: Flickr

Panama Protesting Against Living Costs
In July and August 2022, Panamanians protested the rise in the cost of living in Panama, including food and gas costs. What started as teachers unionizing to oppose the cost increases, quickly turned into the largest protest since dictator, Manuel Antonio Noriega, was removed from power in 1989. Various Indigenous groups, unions and industry associations joined the teachers in this historic Panama protesting against living costs.

About What Has Been Happening in Panama

Due to the Russian-Ukrainian war, COVID-19 and the high inflation rates in Panama, the cost of living has been increasing significantly over the past few years spawning the Panamanian protest against living costs, specifically the rise in transportation, food and gasoline costs. In December 2021, the inflation rates were only 2.6%, but by May 2022, the inflation rates were 5.2%, a 100% increase.

Inflation has led to a jump in the cost of basic necessities such as food and gas. Transport prices have risen 16.1% since the start of the year.

Gas prices have been reaching an all-time high time in Panama. Since the start of the year, the prices have risen by approximately 50%, reaching a high in June. The average cost of a single food basket also significantly rose this year. Since last year, the price of a food basket has increased by approximately $18.

In 2019, an estimated 500,000 Panamanians were living under $5.50 per day, and more severely, 52,000 Panamanians were living under $1.92 per day. In 2020, an estimated 575,000 were living in poverty. Poverty is widespread in Panama but it hits the rural areas the most, affecting the Indigenous populations. According to the World Bank, in 2020, inequality in Panama was a high 49.2 on the Gini index, an index that measures the severity of class inequality. The high poverty rates among the indigenous people and lower class have been a factor in the establishment of Panama protesting against living costs.

The Impact of the Protests

Since the protests started there has been an estimated $500 million in economic losses. Food producers by themselves have lost approximately $131 million at the time of the protests.

Because of the duration and magnitude of Panama’s protests against living costs, negotiations between the protesters and the government have occurred, some resulting in a win. The government agreed in July to lower the price of gas to $3.95, a 24% decrease since the end of June.

However, the demonstrations continued and the government froze the cost of fuel at $3.25 in August. The government has also agreed to regulate the prices of 72 food items, a 30% saving on the price of a basket of food, which would in turn be more than $80 in savings.

The government has been dialoguing with the protesters and has made significant decreases in fuel and food prices. While some protests have turned violent involving the police, the government and the protesters are making their mark in history.

– Janae O’Connell
Photo: Flickr

Panama's Healthcare
According to a study, both physical and mental health have links with poverty. Being able to perform basic tasks such as breastfeeding, going to school, growing food and feeding a family all require one to be in good health to stay alive and be a productive member of society. In the same context, if someone is making below minimum wage consistently or struggling in poverty, they likely will not be able to afford adequate health care to keep up with the tasks involved in being a healthy and productive member of society. While Panama has issues in its healthcare system, available facts show the country has one of the better healthcare systems in the world. Here is some information about health in Panama along with fives facts about Panama’s healthcare system.

A Brief Overview of Health in Panama

As early as 2019, Panama had a population of 4.2 million people, with a fertility rate of 2.4. The average year that a citizen of Panama completed their education was year 10. There also appears to be a trend in the life average life expectancy of those in Panama increasing while the fertility rate of Panama will gradually decrease.

Estimates have determined that by 2030, the average life expectancy for males will increase from around 73.8 to 76 years. Meanwhile, for females, life expectancy should rise from 78.1 to around 83 years. Simultaneously, as early as 2017, the fertility rate of Panama went down from 2.8 to 2.3 and should continue to decrease into the future.

5 Facts About Panama’s Healthcare System

  1. Many view Panama’s healthcare system in a positive light. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) rankings of the healthcare system in Panama, the country is somewhere in the middle ranking 95th out of 191 registered countries. However, the general public, especially ex-pats traveling there, praise Panama for its healthcare, stating that doctors and nurses have a warm bedside manner and that they provide accurate and adequate service.
  2. Panama City has the best health service locations. Most of the top-notch healthcare facilities in Panama are located in urban areas such as Panama City. One hospital, Punta Pacifica, is the most technologically advanced healthcare facility in Latin America.
  3. Private and public services can be equal options. In some cases, such as being in remote areas, if one is not from the country, they might have to use public services. However, depending on the region, public and private services are available. Public services are also equipped technologically and are prepared to deal with basic emergencies and procedures.
  4. Public healthcare is affordable. While pricing varies in healthcare depending on the emergency and location, public healthcare is very affordable in Panama for the most part. A typical visit to a specialist costs about $50 or potentially less. A visit to the emergency room would normally cost anywhere from $30-$100. In some cases, depending on where you are, it may even be free.
  5. Private healthcare systems offer various discounts. Typically, private healthcare in Panama offers around a 20%-25% discount for retirees when it comes to healthcare expenses. However, Panama sometimes gives out discounts during different seasonal times of the year. For example, Panama has sometimes reduced the cost of mammograms during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

Panama’s healthcare system certainly has positives that the world can emulate. Affordable healthcare is important in ensuring healthy and productive members of society.

– Alex Havardansky
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in PanamaIn 2019, in Panama, a country in Central America, authorities identified 61 potential human trafficking victims. Out of the 61 victims, sex trafficking victims accounted for 33, labor trafficking victims accounted for 26 and the remaining two victims endured exploitation in “other forms of trafficking.” In comparison, in 2020, authorities identified only six victims —  three sex trafficking victims, one labor trafficking victim and two victims of “slavery.” The U.S. Department of State provides insight into the steps the Panamanian government is taking to address human trafficking in Panama.

How Panama Compares to Other Countries

In 2016, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that there were 24.9 million victims of human trafficking across the world.  Since then, the ILO has not followed up with new estimates, but it is likely that the number has increased, especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased people’s economic vulnerabilities, resulting in higher susceptibility to exploitation. Traffickers target victims of all ages and genders for many reasons but the three most common types of human trafficking are for the purpose of sex work, debt bondage and forced labor.

The U.S. Department of State produces annual country-specific Trafficking in Persons Reports to assess the progress of countries in eliminating human trafficking. Countries that completely meet the minimum standards of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) are classified as Tier 1 countries. The standards assess steps taken to protect victims of trafficking, prevent instances of trafficking and prosecute traffickers.

The 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report on Panama classifies Panama as a Tier 2 country, meaning it is not completely meeting the minimum standards of the TVPA but is actively working toward that goal.

According to trafficking reports from the U.S. Department of State, human trafficking in Panama is most common in bars and brothels. However, official reports note an increase in human trafficking offenses taking place in beauty salons and spas as well as private residences and rented homes.

It is also very common for other Central Americans to be trafficked into Panama when passing through the Panama Canal. As of 2020, foreign women accounted for most identified human trafficking victims in Panama.

Panama’s Shortcomings

The most significant obstacles that prevent Panama from becoming a Tier 1 country in terms of human trafficking are Panama’s lack of prosecution against human traffickers and inadequate protection of trafficking victims. Article 456 of Panama’s Penal Code states that human trafficking is punishable by 15-20 years in jail and 20-30 years if the victim is a minor.

However, Panama’s human trafficking investigations can at times lack efficiency. In 2020, Panamanian authorities initiated 29 trafficking cases but only convicted three traffickers. Whereas, in 2019, authorities only initiated five investigations but convicted 13 traffickers. The rate at which Panama convicts human traffickers is not on par with Tier 1 countries.

In addition, after courts in Panama reopened following the COVID-19 pandemic, many trafficking cases proceeded at an even slower rate than before. Restrictions, such as closing commercial establishments, have hindered police from solving trafficking cases.

Panama is also not performing at its full potential in terms of victim protection. In 2020, “the government did not allocate funding specific to the anti-trafficking commission or victim services.” And, the government did not establish shelters for victims of human trafficking specifically.

Child victims are sometimes placed in designated shelters. However, within these shelters, there have been reported and confirmed cases of sexual abuse and mistreatment against children with disabilities.

Panama’s Fight against Human Trafficking

In terms of the three Ps, Panama has been the most effective in its prevention efforts for trafficking. Panama’s Anti-Trafficking Commission has focused its efforts on bringing awareness to human trafficking by organizing an anti-trafficking drawing contest for schoolchildren, raising awareness about trafficking through flyers, radio and television and running a trafficking hotline. The Commission is also conducting anti-trafficking seminars and held an awareness walk for human trafficking in Panama back in 2019.  In 2020, a victim who attended a seminar later called a hotline to identify as a human trafficking victim.


Panama’s National Commission for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation Crimes (CONAPREDES), a governing body founded in 2004, aims to prevent sexual exploitation in Panama. A notable accomplishment of CONAPREDES is enacting the “National Plan for the Prevention of Elimination of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Boys, Girls and Adolescents” in 2008. The plan has four main focal points: “prevention, attention to victims, investigations and sanctions for offenders.”

Funding for the National Plan under CONAPREDES comes from the government and a Sexual Exploitation Fund. The Fund’s finances come from taxes on foreigners leaving the Tocumen National Airport and taxes placed on film rental shops and theatres regarding the “sale, rental or exhibition of legal pornographic movies.”

Since early 2019, CONAPREDES has collaborated with the University of Panama to open an Observatory of Sexual Exploitation of Boys, Girls and Adolescents. The observatory allows for further research into the sexual exploitation of minors to assist CONAPREDES in its design of policies to combat these crimes and related human trafficking offenses.

Panama’s Tier 2 placement is promising. With more focus on the prosecution of traffickers and protection of human trafficking victims, Panama can reach the goal of Tier 1 placement.

– Luke Sherrill
Photo: Unsplash

5 Progressive Steps Toward Raising Awareness of Human Trafficking in PanamaWithin the last five years, there have been many cases of human trafficking throughout Panama. Human trafficking refers to the use of fraud or coercion in order to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act from a victim. Most trafficking victims in Panama are women from South and Central America, being exploited for sexual purposes. However, children and men are also victims.

Men from South and Central America, China and Vietnam are forced to work in construction, agriculture, mining and restaurants. Children are mainly used for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. Tactics used include debt bondage, false promises and threats of reporting illegal immigration. In recent years, police have reported that some traffickers have even used illegal substances as a means to acquire victims. Below are five efforts to tackle the issues posed by human trafficking.

  1. UNODC: The UNODC, or the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, operates in Central America and the Caribbean to provide member states with technical assistance in the fight against serious and organized crime. In late January of 2020, the UNODC partnered with the General Secretariat of the National Commission against Trafficking in Persons to hold an informative breakfast in Panama to share its progress and challenges. The event also welcomed people to volunteer their support and funding through the Unit for the Identification and Care of Victims of Trafficking in Persons. There is hope that through events like this, the government of Panama will continue to make developments and advancements in putting an end to human trafficking. Hope remains that these efforts will also inspire more volunteering from those willing to work against the crime.
  2. National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Family: In 2019, Panama made efforts to reduce the likelihood and prominence of child labor throughout the country. One of these efforts included the implementation of the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Family (SENNIAF). This agency conducts inspections to identify children living through child labor practices. Shelters for victims of trafficking, as well as care plans for children who were previously used as child laborers, are also available through this agency.
  3. Reforms in Law: In 2011, the government of Panama enacted Law 79. The law deals with trafficking in persons and related activities, thereby providing the legislative framework regarding human trafficking. The law aims to provide victims with respect in regard to their status. The initial step of this process requires public servants to immediately report to the police if they believe a person may be a victim of human trafficking, as outlined by Article 44. After a person is confirmed to be a victim of trafficking, Article 47 states that the person is allowed to stay in the country for at least 90 days in order for the victim to both physically and emotionally recover. Possibly, the most significant provision that the government has implemented is in Article 37. The portion asserts that no victim of human trafficking may be detained, accused or processed for entering the country illegally.
  4. International Organization for Migration: Headquartered in Panama, the IOM works to support the efforts of the government in Panama to develop and implement plans to prevent, investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, while protecting victims. In line with the annual World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on July 30, 2021, the IOM held a panel on raising awareness, victim protection and crime prevention. The event was attended by government authorities and members of civil society. Its main goal was to analyze the advances and challenges associated with the issue of trafficking, as well as to develop a perspective of human rights for the protection of trafficking victims.
  5. Districts Free of Child Labor Initiatives: The government of Panama created anti-child labor agreements such as the SENNIAF listed above. Through efforts made by these agencies, Panama has experienced an increase in victim identifications, as well as training and awareness of the issue among its population.

Three Key Improvements

As a result of many of these efforts, the following improvements have taken place.

  • Child labor training was provided to 105 law enforcement officials, 55 prosecutors and 21 tourism authorities.
  • A local NGO identified 1,497 cases of child labor in 2019. Of the cases, 1,444 received care, scholarships and follow-ups from a program for 3 years in regard to academic work.

  • The Labor Inspectorate carried out 945 inspections for child labor.

The Road Ahead

Though much progress had been made in eliminating human trafficking within Panama, more work is required to see a definitive elimination in cases. A key way to work on eliminating the issue is by spreading awareness of the issue to others; human trafficking is no different. Through the work of many organizations and agencies, Panama has seen an increase in the knowledge of the matter, and the government keeps the hope that trafficking will no longer persist.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in PanamaPanama is part of a group of Latin American countries committing to new energy priorities that allow them to build back better after the COVID-19 pandemic. Renewable energy in Panama is a key part of this success. The international COVID-19 crisis forced the leadership of many countries to rethink the status quo, from prioritizing healthcare accessibility to normalizing the virtual workplace. Sourcing power from renewable sources is part of this envisioned restructuring of society.

The Potential of Renewable Energy in Panama

Renewable energy in Panama can help drastically reduce energy poverty. Energy poverty occurs when a household does not receive enough electricity to power the home. Symptoms of energy poverty include negative health impacts as a result of extreme temperatures, stress and exorbitant energy bills. Panama has great potential to develop its renewable energy capacity in hydropower, solar, wind and more. The goal laid out in Panama’s National Energy Plan aims to generate 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

Hydropower: Panama’s Powerhouse

Panama produces 54% of its energy through hydropower. An isthmus of land situated between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Panama has many naturally flowing sources of water. In the last 30 years since Panama gained control of the Panama Canal from the United States, Panama’s economy boomed, and consequently, its energy needs swelled to unprecedented levels. Hydropower is a major source of foreign investment, and thus, is a boon for the economy.

All life is drawn to water. Conflict often arises in communities along rivers in hydropower construction projects around the world. In Panama, problems include flooding, forced migration, destruction of homes and habitats, pollution and obstruction of fish migration. In 2014, the construction of the Changuinola dam forced 1,000 people from their homes.

Addressing the needs of key stakeholders such as community members has been shown to improve the long-term sustainability of hydropower projects. A study found that heavy reliance on hydropower is linked to corruption in some nations. To address these problems, Panama may be able to opt for small-scale hydropower designs that do not require big reservoirs yet still produce enough energy. To truly create a sustainable energy source, project leaders can conduct site exploration and environmental impact studies to minimize the negative impacts of this expanding renewable energy source.

Wind and Solar Power: Uncaptured Potential

In its commitment to honoring the Paris Climate Accord, Panama has made great strides in implementing wind energy. Panama is known to have the largest wind farm in the Central American and Caribbean region, built in 2015. This wind farm generates “between 6% and 7%” of Panama’s electricity from the 108 wind turbines that stand.

Solar power has less of a foothold in renewable energy in Panama than hydropower and wind, but being a tropical nation near the equator, the nation gets a lot of sun, notably in the dry season from October and March. There is potential for even further expansion and for this development in energy security to lift families out of poverty. Between 2011 and 2020, Panama took its annual solar energy production from two to 198 megawatts, an amount that can now power about 300,000 homes each year. This trajectory will help lift millions out of poverty between now and 2050.

The Road Ahead

The story of renewable energy in Panama is one of accomplishment and growing pains. There are still many issues to face. For 70% of its energy to be produced by renewable sources by 2050, Panama will need to focus on environmental impact studies for hydropower projects. Another priority will be training and paying a workforce with the knowledge and skills to implement renewables technology.

Considering Panama’s energy demands are growing by 8% every year, the growth of hydropower, wind and solar energy play key roles in offsetting the expansion of fossil fuels. This produces better outcomes for everyone in the nation, but particularly those experiencing energy poverty. The expansion of renewable energy provides hundreds of thousands of people with electricity and improves environmental outcomes long term.

– Sarah Metzel
Photo: Flickr

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 funds 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 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 more than 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 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 for 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, more than 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 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 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.


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