Panama spearheads World Bank-financed plan for indigenous development

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Panama is spearheading an ambitious plan for indigenous people’s development like no other in the region in terms of objectives, strategy, and the fact that it has $80 million in financing from the World Bank .

The multilateral bank, which together with the Panamanian government launched this week the Project of Support for the Implementation of the Integral Development Plan for the Indigenous People of Panama, has awakened great expectations with a project expected to be repeated in countries throughout the region.

World Bank vice president for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Mexican Jorge Familiar, told EFE in an interview that despite the project not being on a grand scale in terms of financing - $85 million, of which Panama is contributing $5 million - “there are few as exemplary or important as this.”


The plan seeks to strengthen the governing capability of indigenous authorities and their coordination with the government in order to plan and implement development programs in line with the priorities of the native people, as well to improve the quality of public services in these territories.

The project affects many areas that include governing, education, healthcare, water supply and sanitation, according to the Panamanian Economy and Finance Ministry, which last June signed a contract with the World Bank for a loan of $80 million for the execution of this support agreement.

Familiar said this project has great potential for making a difference because it brings “a change in the way we deal with one of the historic cases of exclusion (that of the indigenous peoples) which is still very present in our region.”

The project “is the result of many years of talks with indigenous peoples in the region and of a regional report we made identifying the challenges that face indigenous communities,” the multilateral bank official said.

The report proposes a new way of working on development, and the project in Panama “is the first attempt to transform those talks and those recommendations into concrete action.”

Panama has a population of close to 400,000 indigenous people, who represent around 11 percent of the total population, but their situation is precarious: poverty affects 96.7 percent of them, while 72 percent of children under age 5 suffer from malnutrition, according to the latest official survey.

For World Bank VP Jorge Familiar, the Panama project, planned to last five years, “if it achieves the results that we all hope, will serve as an example for other countries in the region” where it could be repeated.