Case Study: Darien, Panama

In 1999, the Government of Panama created and initiated a sustainable development program in Darien Province in eastern Panama, called the Program for the Sustainable Development of Darien (PDSD). Funding for the program ($88 million) originated from the Panamanian Government and the Inter-American Development Bank.

Program goals focused on improving the livelihoods of local residents in a manner consistent with the sustainable use of the region’s natural resources. Program components included land use planning, institutional strengthening, basic services and transportation, and support of actions that support sustainable production.

The institutional and organizational component involved significant Capacity Building activities that aimed to 1) strengthen the institutional capacities to effectively and efficiently administer the province’s natural resources, 2) implement measures to mitigate the impacts of new infrastructure, 3) improve the planning, administrative, and financial capabilities of local governments, and 4) increase the meaningful participation of community-based organizations in resource management.

The PDSD, for example, supported institutional strengthening actions for seven national agencies and organizations that have a presence in Darien (National Environment Authority, Panamanian Maritime Authority, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agricultural Development, University of Panama, Ministry of Public Works, and the Office of Indigenous Affairs).

Strengthening the traditionally weak local governments was an additional focus of the PDSD. Activities included improvement of the local tax administrative system, organization of the community councils, and the municipal planning capabilities. The PDSD also worked with 32 community-based organizations (900 people) to encourage these to obtain legal status, strengthen their organizational and administrative skills, and better access appropriate governmental agencies.

One of the land use planning activities of the PDSD focused on coastal management. At the end of 2002, the PDSD initiated a coastal management project in the Darien Province. The Panamanian institution with formal authority for coastal management was the Marine and Coastal Resources Directorate of the Panamanian Maritime Authority (AMP). Together with university consultants, the ICM team conducted a diagnosis of the state of Darien’s coastal resources and the coastal communities’ use of these. Together with consultations with community groups, users, and leaders, the project team identified the priority needs of the coastal residents, as well as threats and vulnerabilities that coastal resources are experiencing. The resulting Darien Coastal Management Plan developed detailed activities to address the priority problems in fisheries, resource conservation, coastal community health, eco-tourism, and institutional coordination. The Panamanian Government formally adopted the Darien Coastal Management Plan in 2005.