Date: Tue, 25 May 1999 22:40:52 -0500 (CDT)
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Action Needed To Save Canal Basin In Panama
Article: 65463
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** headlines: 178.0 **/
** Topic: Action Needed To Save Canal Basin In Panama **
** Written 8:58 PM May 24, 1999 by econet in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 8:34 PM May 23, 1999 by in ips.english */
/* ---------- ENVIRONMENT-PANAMA: Action Needed to Save Canal Basin ------ */

Action Needed to Save Canal Basin

By Silvio Hernandez, IPS, 23 May 1999

PANAMA CITY, May 23 (IPS)—Environmentalists have sounded alarm bells on the future of the Panama Canal basin where forests and lands have been degraded by agricultural and industrial activities.

Studies by various state and private entities have revealed that the canal basin and the eastern jungle of Darien have been the site of some of the worst aggression against natural resources in the country.

Haphazard housing for 200,000 residents, indiscriminate logging and the installation of nearly 130 factories in the canal basin over the last 40 years are blamed for the widespread contamination.

Deforestation has affected 80 percent of the canal basin's 343,675 hectares, and some of the lakes that collect water for the operation of the waterway, like Alajuela Lake, have lost up to five percent of their reservoir capacities due to sedimentation.

Similarly, 23 percent of the forests that still are accessible only by foot are being invaded by human activity, according to the latest studies by the Environmental Division of the Administrative Commission of the Canal.

Juan Hector Diaz, the chief environmental administrator of the Administrative Commission, warned that a common effort should be implemented by all the institutions operating in the area - including those from civil society and local governments—in order to avoid a disaster.

The Panama Canal, which links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, uses 54 million gallons of fresh water for each of the 38 ships that pass through it daily.

Diaz underlined that integral and sustainable management of the hydrographic basin is a priority for the canal authorities.

But he clarified that the Administrative Commission could not act outside its area of influence, which only includes four percent of the basin, until December 31, when the Canal will fall under the jurisdiction of Panama and the United States will withdraw from the zone.

The Panamanian Canal Authority, created by a constitutional amendment ratified by the Parliament in 1994, will be charged with formulating the preservation policies of the hydrographic basin.

Diaz noted that the institution should undertake the monitoring of water quality in the basin, which, besides serving the canal's operations, provides potable water to the metropolitan region of the capital, where more than 40 percent of the 2.8 million Panamanians reside.

A second aspect is controlling the influx of people entering the basin area, a worrisome problem, he said.

Thirdly, the state should address education policies in the hydrographic basin.

In this regard, educational programmes, aimed at the communities and centres of learning in the basin, have been introduced with the goal of preserving the water quality and avoiding deforestation and the effects of contamination on the rivers.

Panamanian researcher Stanley Heckadon, however, warned that the degradation of forests, lands and water in the basin remained so grave that in the studies carried out, red warning lights are going off on all sides.

Heckadon, who works at the Smithsonian Institute of Tropical Research, gave as an example the huge increase in water temperature in the lakes and rivers of the basin, which owes to industrial activity, above all cement factories, and the presence of fecal matter coming from homes and sewage dumps.

We have been very indifferent, complacent and tolerant in the face of the magnitude of the water problem, said Heckadon.

The Panama Canal, which channels nearly five percent of the goods transported by sea in the world, brings about 500 million dollars a year to this country's economy.