Panama Moves Closer Towards First Climate-Related Relocation - ISS Relocations

Panama Edges Closer to Its First Climate-Induced Relocation

This month, the Guna community residing on the small island of Gardi Sugdub in Panama anticipates receiving the keys to their awaited new residences on the mainland, provided the government fulfills its promise. This move has become imperative due to the compounding challenges of rising sea levels and population overcrowding. The nearing realization of this historic event stands as a testament to the community’s concerted efforts over the past decade to strategize this relocation.

Originally planned for September 25, 2023, the relocation to the new mainland site, Isber Yala, faced delays. However, significant progress has been made since Human Rights Watch reported on the situation in July. All 300 houses at the mainland site have been constructed, with erosion-retaining walls in progress. Thanks to community leadership advocacy, cultural gathering spaces, such as the house of congress and ceremonial areas, have been completed in traditional style. Notably, in October, the vice minister of Panama’s housing ministry visited to address community concerns, signifying a positive step that should continue with consistent engagement and follow-up actions.

Despite advancements, governmental intervention remains crucial. Particularly concerning is the absence of a sustainable water supply for both the school and the main site. While community members have proposed an aqueduct, securing government or alternative financing is imperative. The lack of water, a fundamental necessity, is alarming to Gardi Sugdub leader Blas Lopez, who highlights the inability to cook, wash, or drink without it.

Furthermore, long-term plans for sewage management, trash disposal, and the construction of a health clinic are yet to be realized. These issues grow increasingly significant as the relocation date of February 29 approaches.

With one month remaining, the question remains: Will the Panamanian government establish comprehensive plans and allocate adequate financial resources for water, sanitation, and healthcare at the Isber Yala site? The answer will determine whether this relocation stands as an example of respecting human rights or serves as another cautionary tale of the consequences when the needs of relocated communities are not prioritized.

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