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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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