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Our rivers, an ecological disaster in progress

Our rivers, an ecological disaster in progress

By Susana A. Serracín Lezcano

According to the Report on the State of the Environment - GEO Panama 2004, studies on water quality in the main rivers of the districts of Panama, La Chorrera, San Miguelito and Arraiján, carried out by the University of Panama and the Technological University, reveal high concentrations of organic matter and high bacterial load.

Water pollution is one of the main environmental problems in Panama.

Our country has 52 watersheds and around 500 short-distance rivers, whose courses are usually oriented towards the coast.

According to the Report on the State of the Environment - GEO Panama 2004, studies on water quality in the main rivers of the districts of Panama, La Chorrera, San Miguelito and Arraiján, carried out by the University of Panama and the Technological University, reveal high concentrations of organic matter and high bacterial load. In San Miguelito, Arraiján and La Chorrera there are 165 sewage treatment systems, which include those managed by IDAAN, compared to some 1,200 sources of contamination of water resources; but there are still five treatment plants for wastewater management in the country.


Despite all the efforts in environmental education, it is common to observe the sad spectacle of people who, on foot or from their cars, throw all kinds of garbage into the streets and rivers without any remorse. If they are called to their attention, they have the gall to take offense and defend at all costs "their inalienable right to dirty and pollute."

It causes pain to see rivers carrying tons of waste, from refrigerators, tires, dead animals, cans, scrap cars, debris and what you least imagine, due to human irresponsibility and the lack of environmental culture. The foul smell and the cloudy colors of its waters cause discomfort, cause diseases and exaggerate insects, such as mosquitoes and flies.

Rivers of crystalline waters that yesterday were places of recreation and tourism, have been transformed into nauseating and unhealthy sewers. Other rivers perish due to deforestation, improper use of pesticides, industrial discharges, the tendency to misuse the land, mining extraction, toxic pollutants, inadequate urban planning, etc.


We have the emblematic case of the Pacora River, which succumbs to the outrageous extraction of materials for construction, a victim of government laziness and corporate irresponsibility.

In Panama, the treatment of water polluting effluents is practically non-existent, negatively affecting water quality, tourism, recreation, ecosystems and human health. Also the creation of enormous hydroelectric works, dams and transfers, can cause serious environmental damage.

The State is the most responsible for the protection of water. Its obligation is to guarantee the adequate treatment of sewage, domestic and industrial, protect the health of the population and take care of rivers as a source of life. However, the legal regulations on water matters are outdated, the surveillance system is insufficient, the penalties and fines are anachronistic and ineffective, coupled with the lack of technical staff and financial support for the discharge monitoring and analysis programs.

Despite the fact that Law No. 44 of 2002 assigns ANAM the responsibility of diagnosing, managing, managing and conserving the hydrographic basins, in coordination with the institutions of the Interinstitutional Environmental System, the Environmental Consultative Commissions and with the Hydrographic Basin Committees; It is urgent to establish a National Water Policy, which implies improving the coordination of the actors associated with water resources, investing in a planned way in hydraulic infrastructure, in rural aqueducts and improving the access of the poor to water.

As the concentration of the population increases, the demand for goods and services also increases, which generates greater pressure on the availability and quality of the resource. We have the complex existential and strategic challenge of educating and promoting a new water culture that demands not only political, legal and institutional changes; in addition to a global and decentralized approach based on ethical principles of equity and sustainability. Let us remember that the wars of the future will be over water, perhaps they have already begun, even if we only talk about hydrocarbons.

* Environmental lawyer


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