Challenges for the New Government | Cerro Patacón: An Ignored Environmental Emergency? - Expat Community

Challenges for the New Government | Cerro Patacón: An Ignored Environmental Emergency?

May 31, 2024 | News & Articles, Panama | 0 comments

by Arellys Marquínez

Over 2,000 tons of garbage are dumped daily at Cerro Patacón, causing significant environmental damage and health issues. The landfill, the largest in the country, handles 40% of Panama’s waste, leading to the declaration of an “environmental emergency” by President Laurentino Cortizo. Repeated fires during the summer months caused a toxic smoke cloud over the capital, resulting in respiratory problems. The Cabinet approved the procurement of goods/services needed to address this emergency, with $3 million allocated and a 60-day timeline set.

“Once this period ends, the relevant entities must present a detailed report of the contracts to the Cabinet, which will be published on the ‘PanamaCompra’ public procurement system within five business days,” the resolution states. The procurement was to be done through a special acquisition procedure. The deadline was the end of May, but it’s unclear if the process was completed or halted due to a new order suspending new expenditures.

Efforts to contact the head of the Urban and Domestic Sanitation Authority (AAUD) for updates were unsuccessful.

Management Plan
Despite the declared emergency, the problem has not received adequate attention. The new administration and the designated ministers for Environment and Health, Juan Carlos Navarro and Fernando Boyd Galindo, respectively, will face this challenge. Mari Castillo from the Environmental Incidence Center (CIAM) emphasized the urgency of addressing this issue, citing the comprehensive waste management plan from 2017 that includes a transition and contingency plan for Cerro Patacón.

“The wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented,” Castillo said, stressing that existing technical information should be utilized without wasting more public funds.

The Diagnosis
Studies indicate a significant contamination risk at the landfill, necessitating stabilization. Castillo advocated for phased implementation of solutions, starting with regulation to correct identified deficiencies, stabilize the ponds, treat leachates, and improve grazing areas.

Legal Actions and Complaints
CIAM has filed a criminal complaint against AAUD, the Ministry of Environment, and the Ministry of Health for possible environmental and public health violations. They are gathering more information to support the investigation. AAUD and the Fire Department have also filed complaints regarding suspected arson fires.

The new government must prioritize executing existing plans to address the Cerro Patacón emergency without unnecessary delays and ensure short-term solutions. Additionally, Castillo highlighted the need for citizens to change consumption habits to reduce solid waste production. Navarro has committed to defending nature in his upcoming tenure as Environment Minister. Efforts to contact AAUD for updates on the $3 million stabilization contract were unsuccessful.


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