La Prensa reports today that the island suffers from water shortages. The desalination plant has not been operational for over ten years, because the filters had to be replaced and the money to do so was, shall we say, “not available” any more. This forced the island to rely on several wells, which do not produce enough water for residents and a growing number of tourists that visits. In the local clinic, an increasing number of kids has to be treated for intestinal parasites and other hygiene related issues.
However, there are other factors that contribute to the situation, most importantly the phenomenal amount of trash.
Especially in the rain season, which is about to begin, massive amounts of garbage wash ashore from the city, from the boats waiting to transit the Canal and from the rivers – and towns bordering them.
Also, an increasing number of tourists leaves ever more waste. Efforts to attract more and more visitors through commercial initiatives like the Fiesta del Mar, organized by a foreign hotel owner, only focus on making money and discard the fact that all these tourists leave waste, consume water, and need sanitary facilities other than the beach.
The beach itself looks like a slum, with beach huts being put up made of wood and tarpaulins with the occasional coconut leaf thrown in for a tropical look. The beach borders on the site of the demolished Taboga Hotel, which looks very much like Qaddafi’s bombed out Tripoli hideout. The current owner, reportedly Grupo Los Pueblos, hasn’t made even the slightest effort to make the site look somewhat presentable.
There have even been conflicts about the use of water wells between hotel owners and retirees – all foreign – who at one point practically appropriated a public well for private use.
It’s not just the water: Taboga does not have its necessary systems together. Electricity is generated and distributed by ENSA using generators that are so loud that they make whole areas uninhabitable. Trash is a sort of collected with one small truck and dumped inside a natural park, right next to the ANAM office.
A year ago, the garbage truck was absent for over a month because, as the official explanation went, it had been sent to the capital to be painted. Shipping a truck one way costs about $400, but apparently nobody on Taboga is capable of painting a small dump truck with the slogan, “for official use only”.
Nobody wants to think about recycling or other more sustainable methods of garbage management. There are no trash bins on the beach. Nobody enforces any rules against littering. Instead of making any attempts at bettering the situation, the mayor is busy providing taxi services with his pick-up truck during the weekends and holidays.
All the police does, in its turn, is installing a checkpoint at the pier on the weekends, where visitors are checked for drugs using a sniffing dog. Unsurprisingly, drugs enter the island on weekdays through different landing sites.
An ambulance boat that was provided to the island has not been seen or heard of ever since. Officially it is being repaired – the longest boat repair in the history of Panama. The same goes for a small fire truck, which has been in the city for years “to be painted”. As a result, there is no working fire service and medical emergencies have to be shipped to the city by private panga.
And what are the authorities offering as a solution? They’ve started a bidding process for yet another desalination plant, which should cost two million dollar and has to be ready by the end of this year.