Date: Sun, 17 Jan 1999 22:59:46 -0600 (CST)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: ENVIRONMENT-PANAMA: Development Model Mars Quality of Life
Article: 52389
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <> /** ips.english: 427.0 **/
** Topic: ENVIRONMENT-PANAMA: Development Model Mars Quality of Life **
** Written 3:13 PM Jan 16, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Development Model Mars Quality of Life

By Silvio Hernandez, IPS, 13 January 1999

PANAMA CITY, Jan 13 (IPS)—The Panamian development model—based on the indiscriminate exploitation of its natural resources—has become a vicious circle harming the quality of life of the people.

Rodrigo Tarte, executive director of the non governmental 'Fundacion Natura,' and Stanley Heckadon, researcher in the international Smithsonian Institute of Tropical Research, both said the development model must be changed in order to avoid serious consequences.

Tarte said there is abusive use of agrochemicals in agriculture and overexploitation of hillside lands—practices which in the medium term will lead to a loss of biodiversity, the simplification of ecosystems and destruction of the organic layer of the soil so vital to food production.

According to data from the Ministry of Agricultural Development, almost three kilograms of agrochemicals are used per capita, per year, in a country of 2.8 million inhabitants—more than six times the world average and three times that of Central America.

Other negative aspects of the development model identified by Tarte are inadquately carried out mining, industrialisation and the indiscriminate felling of forests, which contribute to increasing environmental problems through the emission of greenhouse gases.

In the last 50 years, Panama lost more than a third of the 4.2 million hectares of forests it possessed in the forties.

As for mining, Tarte explained this is one of the industrial activities which causes most damage to ecosystems and to human beings. In the last three years at least five serious ecological accidents have taken place.

Spillages of cyanide compounds used by the mining companies to separate gold from mineral rock have occurred near rivers providing drinking water to some 380,000 people in the western and central provinces of Veraguas, Herrera and Los Santos.

In summary, the health of the ecosystems in most of the nations of the world is affected by an economy which appears, as yet, unable to make rational use of natural resources, said Tarte.

And worse still, to get all society equally to participate in the process of wealth generation and distribution, he added.

The expert recommended the promulgation of laws punishing the indiscriminate felling of forests, a food security programme, sustainable agriculture and the internationalisation of the costs of environmental contamination.

Heckadon, meanwhile, indicated the environmental disaster has negative influence on water quality in the metropolitan region, home to 40 percent of the country's inhabitants, due to industrial contamination and uncontrolled immigration toward the canal water catchment area.

Since 1974, the population of this canal zone—made up of 372,000 hectares of natural forests—rose from some 50,000 people to more than 200,000.

A recent study by Heckadon revealed that in recent years the destruction of the forests in the canal basin has been stalled due to a series of protection laws and measures, but that human and industrial activity are still having a negative impact on water quality.

After criticising the lack of measures to mitigate the impact of industrial activities in the metropolitan region, Heckadon cited the example of the case of waste water fron chicken and pig farms which is channeled into oxidation pools which are really simple ditches which can easily overflow.

Floods resulting from El Nino inspired climatic upsets caused several such pools to overflow into rivers and lakes providing water to the metropolitan region, he added.

Meanwhile, dust released into the atmosphere by the two cement companies sited near to the city, added to the fecal waste from chicken and pig farms and houses with no drainage, have caused an enormous increase in water temperature in the lakes providing drinking water.

The studies we are carrying out are lighting red lights all over the place, said Heckadon, director of the National Institute of Renewable Natural Resources as was from 1990 to 1991.

If things continue this way, we are heading toward a deterioration of public health, on top of the loss of water quality already seen in the entire metropolitan region, warned the expert.