Humanitarian aid to PanamaThe U.S. began providing aid to Panama in 1961. In its early stages, the main purpose of humanitarian aid to Panama was to eradicate poverty in the country’s rural communities. Between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s, the focus shifted to improving Panama’s infrastructure and public facilities. In the 1990s, USAID was used to help jumpstart Panama’s economy following a political transition.

The Success Stories

In 2012, the USAID mission in Panama was officially closed. This means that after 51 years of providing humanitarian aid to Panama, the country had reached a point where it could deal with its own developmental and economic challenges.

At the time the mission was closed, the poverty rate had fallen from a high of 23 percent to seven percent, and the official unemployment rate was just 4.3 percent.

The health of Panama’s citizens also improved greatly during the period in which USAID was active in Panama. The life expectancy went up to 76 years and the fertility rate went down to 2.4 children per woman.

Access to education is now nearly universal in Panama. The country’s education system includes 11 years of free and compulsory education provided by the government. The curriculum includes science, math, language, social studies and other subjects needed to train a thriving workforce.

Humanitarian aid to Panama also helped the country during its transition back to democracy in 1990. The aid was used to bolster an economic recovery after a 20-year military dictatorship. It also helped stabilize Panama’s new democratic government.

From Aid Recipient to Aid Provider

When Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September and early October 2017, Panama was quick to ship aid in the form of milk, oil and rice to the island.

Panama had been receiving U.S. foreign assistance for over 50 years and they have seen tremendous benefits from USAID. But the biggest success story of all is that Panama has become a country that is now able to provide aid to other countries in times of crisis.

When former aid recipients are able to give back to American citizens in their time of need, it is a reminder that foreign assistance is not a handout, but an investment in the future. USAID in Panama assisted Panama in their economic, political and humanitarian development. It also helped create a powerful ally for the U.S.

Aaron Childree

Photo: Flickr

Infrastructure in PanamaPanama’s infrastructure is one of the best systems in Latin America. Infrastructure in Panama includes a network of roads and highways, the Panama Railroad, over 100 international and domestic airports and, of course, the Panama Canal. In 2013, the government of Panama invested an additional $13.6 billion in improvements to trade, tourism and exports, which includes further improvements to infrastructure in Panama.

Roads & Highways

Panama’s roads are in good condition around Panama City and other urban areas, but are in need of improvements in more rural areas. The Pan-American Highway, the world’s “longest motorable road,” runs through the entire country. Panama is continuing to invest in improvements to its roads and other infrastructure through its Government Strategic Plan that is set to be implemented through 2019.


Construction of the Panama Railroad first began in 1850, and in 1855 the first train traveled from the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean. In 1907, large portions of the railroad had to be moved to make room for the construction of the Panama Canal. Today, the New Panama Railroad takes passengers and freight between the country’s Atlantic and Pacific ports.


Panama has five international airports. The largest is Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. Tocumen has flights to over 90 cities. Panama has over 100 total airports and its location between North and South America helps it serve as an important hub for connecting flights between the continents.

Panama Canal & Waterways

Construction began on the Panama Canal in 1904 and it officially opened in 1914. The canal belonged to the U.S. until 1999, when ownership was transferred to Panama. It runs 80km along one of the narrowest parts of the country and connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Panama Canal is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and employs 10,000 people. Panama also has 13 ports, including 5 major ports with container service.

Due to its geography, Panama plays a large role in trade and commerce. This has led to lots of investment being poured into the country’s infrastructure both from the government of Panama as well as from foreign governments and companies. Infrastructure in Panama plays an important role in connecting people throughout the Americas with its system of highways, trains, international airports and waterways.

– Aaron Childree

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Panama
To understand poverty in Panama, the economic dichotomy between the country’s urban and rural regions must be brought to attention. Many residents of Panama’s larger cities currently experience the monetary benefits of one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. This is largely due to international trade being introduced through the newly expanded Panama Canal. However, many Panamanians living away from these cities experience a vastly different economic reality. Poor infrastructure and little opportunity for agricultural growth constitute the primary reasons for the causes of poverty in Panama.

The country’s poor infrastructure is one of its main causes of poverty. Per a New York University report, roads “remain poor in rural parts of the country.” The report goes on to state that, “in total, only about 34 percent of the roads are paved”.

Roads that are unpaved and dangerous to use make it difficult for rural farmers to transport their goods to market. In turn, this means that many of these families have a much more difficult time selling goods and services to a broader market than people who have access to proper infrastructure. This has led to a crisis in Panamanian agricultural output, which is now a little over two percent of the country’s GDP, a low number for a country that has heavily relied on this form of trade in the past. This is one of the causes of poverty in Panama and is found mainly in the country’s rural areas in which agriculture is the primary source of livelihood.

Drought is another one of the main causes of poverty in Panama. Much of the time, growing food in rural Panama is a matter of life or death and a necessity to feed one’s family. Rural Panamanians not only sell agricultural goods, they often sustain themselves from what they grow. This is a practice called subsistence farming — feeding oneself entirely from the food one produces personally. Unfortunately, much of Central America has been experiencing a drought since 2014, leading to a decrease in food production.

“The lack of rain since the middle of 2014 has resulted in the loss of staple grain crops and death of thousands of cattle in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and, to a lesser extent, in areas of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama,” states a report by the U.N.‘s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The World Bank has cited that a proper educational system installed in rural Panama could diminish much of its poverty. The World Bank report states that families led by a member who has received some level of education are less likely to be poor than families that are not. Educational systems brought to rural Panama have the potential to increase social mobility for the uneducated. Perhaps programs such as this could not only decrease the financial gap between urban and rural Panama but also reduce poverty in Panama in general.

Michael Carmack

Panama Poverty Rate

Panama is a country of sharp contrasts. Despite recent economic growth that has benefitted some, many Panamanians still suffer from poor living conditions as the Panama poverty rate remains high, especially in rural areas.

According to the World Bank, 18.7 percent of Panamanians live in poverty. However, it is important to note the decrease in poverty that has taken place over recent years. Between 2008 and 2014, poverty was reduced from 26.2 percent to 18.7 percent and extreme poverty was reduced from 14.5 percent to 10.2 percent.

Much of this poverty is manifested in rural areas where the benefits of Panama’s dramatic economic growth have failed to reach. Those that live in rural areas of Panama often suffer from a greater rate of poverty. Extreme poverty in rural areas reaches 27 percent, in sharp contrast to urban areas where only four percent live in extreme poverty.

Poverty is even worse in indigenous areas—known as “comarcas”—where 70 percent of Panamanians live in poverty. In these areas, many lack access to clean water and sanitation, contributing to a poor quality of life outside of the bustling urban centers.

The economic growth that has benefited Panama recently is newsworthy. Compared to other countries in Central America, Panama’s GDP has grown twice as fast. This is due, at least in part, to the expansion of the Panama Canal, a thriving banking industry and an outflow of cash from Venezuela. As Panama’s economy grows, however, so does its income inequality.

This economic growth has not created better living conditions for all and has only exacerbated the disparity between the wealthy and the poor of Panama. According to a CIA analysis, Panama has the second-worst income distribution among Latin American countries, despite its reputation as one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

Perhaps the key to continuing to lower the Panama poverty rate is addressing the inequality in income distribution. While Panama’s economy is expected to continue growing in the future—the forecast in 2017 is 5.4 percent—it is important to determine how this growth can be used to benefit those that still live below the poverty line.

Jennifer Faulkner

Common Diseases in PanamaDiseases in countries where there are a lot of the population living below the line of poverty are, unfortunately, more prevalent than those is developed countries. Combine a low average income with a tropical atmosphere, and infectious disease becomes more prevalent, and more dangerous. These factors contribute to the most common diseases in Panama.

Panama’s poverty levels are high. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America, nearly 29 percent of the population lives in poverty, and about 12 percent are extremely poor. In such conditions, many cannot afford to protect themselves from commonly cured diseases.

Common diseases in Panama, such as cholera and Hepatitis A, are food-borne illnesses. These can be passed through the handling of food through fecal matter. Poor sanitation from food handlers leads to the passing of the infection to the recipient. Cholera can be cured with antibiotics, and the World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend a vaccine. Hepatitis A, however, has no cure, but fortunately, there is a vaccine.

A very common disease in Panama, also passed through contaminated water, is giardiasis. This illness is an infection in the intestine, which originates from a parasite. Giardiasis infects 25 percent of food handlers in Panama City.

As with many countries in Latin America, common diseases in Panama include a prevalence of vector-borne illness. Malaria, Dengue fever and Yellow fever are all diseases caused by environmental forces. Malaria is commonly found in tropical areas. This illness is transferred by the bite of a mosquito, and can lead to organ failure, among many other complications.

Another common disease in Panama is Leishmaniasis. This disease occurs in less-populated areas, usually in areas where there are forests. This disease has three different types: cutaneous, mucocutaneous and visceral. The first two types are defined by their ulcer type, the third is the most severe form. Visceral leishmaniasis causes high fever, weight loss, spleen and liver swelling and skin darkening. Untreated visceral leishmaniasis patients have about an 85 percent mortality rate.

Although, many of these diseases come from the natural environment of the country, resources and aid given to a country with a high infection rate and high poverty rate help tremendously. The U.S. does not give extensive financial aid to Panama, however, has provided assistance in regards to developmental assistance and health, but mostly only to assist with HIV/AIDS.

Nate Harris

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Panama
As one of the most prosperous and developed countries in Central America, Panama is a leader in the area regarding sanitation and water quality. Current estimates say that 93% of Panamanians have access to an improved water source, while 69% have access to improved sanitation. Despite these numbers, there have been many challenges in recent years pertaining to water quality in Panama, especially in rural areas.

  1. Many of Panama’s improvements in water quality occurred in the 1990s after Ernesto Perez Balladares was elected president in 1994. The privatization of water and electric companies helped to improve conditions as the country continued to invest in urban areas.
  2. Data from the World Bank showed an increase in the percentage of those that have access to an improved water source from 83.8% up to 94.7% between 1990 and 2015.
  3. The Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantarillados Nacionales (IDAAN) has been responsible for water quality in Panama for more than 50 years. IDAAN recently set up a tariff system to help cover investment costs as their expenses increase.
  4. In 2013, 840,000 of the country’s population of 3.8 million did not have 24-hour access to water, while 600,000 lacked access to a potable supply, and 30,000 relied on tank trucks to deliver drinking water.
  5. A 15-day rainstorm in December of 2010 created a clog in purification equipment in a water treatment plant, resulting in a month-long shutdown that hindered more than a million residents’ access to water in Panama City.
  6. Recent studies about the effects of climate change have suggested that periods of flood and drought may threaten both Panama’s water quality and the water supply in the Panama Canal. This may pose a huge threat to Panama’s shipping industry, as it takes 52 million gallons of water to move just one ship through the canal.
  7. One recent threat toward water quality in Panama has been the agricultural runoffs in rural areas that may contain pesticides, animal feces and other contaminants. After facing pressure to confront this issue in 2015, Panama’s National Assembly created the Ministry of the Environment to focus on giving rural residents consistent access to clean water.
  8. If present trends continue, Panama hopes to increase drinking water coverage for both urban and rural areas above 90 percent by 2020.

While the country has made tremendous progress in the last few decades, water quality in Panama remains an issue due to poor response to problems such as drought and runoff. In the near future, Panama will have to respond to changes brought about by climate change and other factors to ensure the continued health and prosperity of their nation.

Nick Dugan

Photo: Flickr

Cost of Living in Panama
Known for its 48-mile canal connecting the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean, Panama receives over a million visitors each year. Panama’s beautiful beaches, ecotourism and international festivals can seduce many tourists into making Panama their home rather than a vacation spot. For those who entertain the thought of Panama as their permanent home, it is important to know the cost of living in Panama as well as what it’s like to live there.

Panama has a relatively low cost of living, which can range from $1,120 to $8,000 per month for two people, while the average middle-class salary in Panama is estimated at $1,200 per month. These costs fluctuate depending on what region or city you are going to be living in Panama.

The unemployment rate in Panama is 4.5%. The labor force in Panama is made up of 1.78 million people; a large majority of the population works in services while the rest works in agriculture and industry. The standard workweek in Panama is 48 hours, which is 8 hours more than a full-time work week here in the United States.

While the cost of living in Panama is low, migrants should know much more about Panama before making the decision to move there. For example, while Panama’s crime rate compared to other Central American countries is relatively low; however, it is still high compared to most of the United States. Panama, Colon, Herrera and Chiriqui are among the provinces with the largest cities which had the highest overall crime rate. There has been a pattern of decreasing crime in Panama. Homicide, armed robberies and petty theft rates have all continuously fallen.

Moving from the United States to Panama may come as a huge shock when you realize that Panama’s population is only four million. Approximately one-third of Panama’s population lives in Panama City or the immediate area around it. Panama City is packed with nightlife, shopping areas. The rest of the areas in Panama provide a quiet and relaxed life which provides quicker access to Panama’s nature.

There are many things to consider and know about Panama before turning your yearly vacation into a forever home. While Panama may be very appealing to the eye and its beautiful attractions may coerce someone into a quick move, the cost of living in Panama may be a deciding factor.

Danyel Harrigan

Photo: Flickr

Panama Refugees
Panama is a country located on the isthmus between Central and South America which hosts thousands seeking asylum from nearby countries such as Nicaragua and Venezuela. However, the majority of refugees in Panama come from Colombia.

Over more than 50 years of drug-related conflict, 6.6 million Colombians have been forced to leave their homes. An estimated 370,000 Colombian refugees live in countries near their own, and Panama is a major hub. Below are ten facts about refugees in Panama and organizations working to improve their circumstances.

  1. Panama is a possible destination for refugees because of its relative safety and proximity to countries currently at war. As a result, many applications go unreviewed for years due to high volume. Of 893 requests for asylum in Panama from Colombia last year, just 28 went under review, of which 23 were accepted.
  2. Also, few Colombian refugees receive Refugee Status Determination (RSD), meaning deportation is a constant possibility. Without the direct support of a governing body, there is no guarantee of essential resources and safety.
  3. Due to a lack of documentation, Colombian refugees in Panama have little job security. Sometimes, refugee families cannot afford to stay.
  4. Fortunately, organizations identify these gaps and step in to help. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) offers legal services and counseling to Colombian refugees in Panama, helping them to achieve official refugee standing and to defend their property rights.
  5. The NRC aims to empower refugees in the context of the law as a whole. The staff at a convenient Panama-based office train authorities to maximize their ability to help, escort new asylum seekers to refugee commissions and ensure a basic understanding of the law so refugees can avoid falling victim to crime.
  6. In 2016, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued an initiative to improve resources and security for refugees in some Latin American countries, Panama included. The appeal calls for $18.1 million to ensure housing, child protection and related resources. So far the appeal has fulfilled nearly half of these requests.
  7. Closely following these efforts, the UNHCR supported the release of the San Jose Action Statement, in which nine countries across North and Central America agreed to protect those struggling to flee danger in their home countries.
  8. Participating countries will formulate solutions to keep refugees safe as they cross borders. Implementing the use of clear, abundant documentation and creating access to legal services are foundational elements of the plan.
  9. The process also includes training national officials according to the concerns of refugees, with a specific focus on law and policy. This step is already in motion in all nine participating countries.
  10. Protecting refugees in Panama and ensuring them basic resources will mean extensive data collection.  This plan is an endeavor that has presented a challenge already, as there is little existing protocol. Countries continue brainstorming to troubleshoot such issues.

Though technicalities pervade—and sometimes inhibit—the flow of refugees from places of conflict into Panama, the work of compassionate nations and organizations like NRC and the U.N. promise smoother transitions. With their continued efforts, the experiences of refugees in Panama are bound to keep improving.

Madeline Forwerck

Photo: Flickr

A 2015 report by the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO) showed that Panamanian malnutrition rates have fallen in the last 25 years from nearly 26 percent to 10 percent. The report attributed this trend in decreasing hunger in Panama to its economic growth.

Panama has made significant progress in reducing poverty in recent years. Between the years 2008 and 2014, from the 3.9 million citizens of Panama, an additional 168,000 people overcame extreme poverty, while close to 300,000 got out of poverty.

Regional disparities are still prevalent, however, especially in rural areas mainly inhabited by indigenous people. While in urban areas extreme poverty is below 4 percent, in rural areas, extreme poverty is at about 27 percent. In indigenous territories, poverty is above 70 percent and extreme poverty is above 40 percent. These consistently high poverty rates in rural indigenous communities mean that many still face hunger in Panama.

Combating Hunger with Everyday Foods

To combat persistent malnourishment and micronutrient deficiencies in rural communities, Panama has adopted a national strategy of biofortifying staple food crops like rice, beans, and sweet potatoes.

Research began in 2006, coming to fruition in August 2013, when the government launched Agro Nutre Panamá, coordinating the improvement of food quality among the rural, indigenous poor by adding iron, vitamin A and zinc to seeds.

“We see biofortification as an inexpensive way to address the problem by means of staple foods that families consume on a daily basis,” said Ismael Camargo, the coordinator of Agro Nutre, in an interview with Inter Press Service (IPS) in 2014.

The program enlisted 4,000 subsistence level or family farmers in planting biofortified seeds and does not plan to monetize the seeds for commercial use.

“The aim is to improve the nutritional quality of the diets of family farmers,” food engineer Omaris Vergara of the University of Panama told IPS.

While the exact impact of these biofortified crops has yet to be measured, due to lack of the Central American country’s research infrastructure, this program of eliminating hunger in Panama shows great promise.

Casie Wilson

Photo: Flickr

What had once been a course on music production and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has now become one of the most innovative global outreach programs in current times. Founded by Stephen Levitin, Doctor Mark Katz and Pierce Freelon in 2011, awareness and support for Beat Making Lab was originally gleaned through crowd-sourcing.

However, Levitin, Katz and Freelon gleaned more than just funds–they also attracted the attention of PBS Digital Studios, which agreed to document the efforts of Beat Making Lab in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Panama and Ethiopia.

Beat Making Lab collaborates with global communities in order to achieve cultural exchange, innovation and inspiration. Beat Making Lab, an enterprise of the production company ARTVSM LLC also partners with PBS Digital Studios in order to donate equipment such as laptops and software to global communities. The studio also shoots music videos with the selected community in order to create a weekly web-series with PBS.

For example of how Beat Making Lab has spread its message of global collaboration and peace through art is evident in Ethiopia, last summer, Beat Making Lab trained a group of 18-25 year old students in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The group was taught how to blend modern hip-hop beats with traditional Ethiopian rhythms in order to convey messages regarding pressing political and health issues in their homeland.

One of the many goals of Beat Making Lab is to provide youth around the globe with the tools and information necessary to become entrepreneurs of their own. In order to ensure that the knowledge provided during the two week session is not lost, students are requested to keep training other members of their community.

A former Beat Making Lab student, DJ Couler, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, stated that ““when the instructors return to the United States, for us that will not be the end. It will be more like a continuation, or even a beginning for us because we will be able to teach others how to create their own beats.”

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: Beat Making Lab, Beat Making Lab- 2, PRI
Photo: Okay Player