Panama gets ready for the next earthquake

October 3, 2012


Full view of David, Panama. The city prepares to reduce vulnerability to natural disasters.


  • The CAPRA platform is an open source tool for assessing natural hazards and to help people to be prepare for disasters.
  • In David, the third largest city in the country, a project helps identify the most vulnerable structures in an earthquake.
  • The Panamanian government is interested in implementing CAPRA projects in other cities.

For many people in David, December 25, 2003 is a hard date to forget. Shortly after 2 am, an earthquake of  6.0 magnitude shook Puerto Armuelles, 40 kilometers away from the third largest city in Panama, killing two people and leaving hundreds homeless. The following month, the area on the Panamanian Pacific coast experienced 600 aftershocks.

Central America is one of the most vulnerable regions to natural hazards in the world. Throughout history, hurricanes and earthquakes have left a trail of devastation in most parts of the isthmus. To reduce this vulnerability, local governments have sought a way to prepared themselves for these adverse and unpredictable natural events and have found a solution: CAPRA.

This open software suite, whose acronym means Central America Probabilistic Risk Assessment, analyzes the threats of natural disasters in terms of damage to infrastructure and estimates direct economic and human losses. It uses a display platform geographical information system (GIS) to create a map and measure the possible impact caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, landslides and volcanoes.

" The ultimate objective is not to ensure that the CAPRA platform is utilized, but to build local technical capacity to generate its own disaster risk data "

Fernando Ramírez-Cortés

World Bank Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist and CAPRA Coordinator

The CAPRA platform was developed to provide assistance to Central American countries and is now used in other South American nations such as Colombia, Chile and Ecuador. Also, CAPRA will soon support the efforts of other regions in the world, such as South Asia, an area also prone to major natural disasters.

“The ultimate objective is not to ensure that the CAPRA platform is utilized, but to build local technical capacity to generate its own disaster risk data”, says Fernando Ramirez-Cortes, World Bank Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist and CAPRA Coordinator. These will help the countries to use that data effectively in decision-making.

CAPRA in Panama

David is the most important city western Panama and a very popular tourist destination. But it is also one of the most vulnerable to natural disasters. Since 2011, David has implemented a Technical Assistance Project with CAPRA methodology, which has helped to measure seismic hazards in public buildings, such as schools and homes, and improve institutional capacity to define strategies to address adverse natural events.

The first analyses performed using CAPRA have identified many important factors. For instance, 35% of the houses are vulnerable to seismic activities and are located in well-defined groupings within the city and tend to coincide with the lower income levels.

But the main CAPRA result is the improvement of national capacity for risk assessment and disaster management. The ministries of Housing, Health and Education now have a plan to reduce seismic risks which will provide guidance for short-, medium-, and long-term investment projects. After these results, the Panamanian government is looking to implement the CAPRA platform in other parts of the country.

"The ultimate goal of this kind of studies is to save lives. The results provided by CAPRA allow us to take direct action, considering it points out the most vulnerable areas in the city, and even let us identify the weakest house constructions, along with hospitals and schools that might need improvements", says Aixa Santamaria, Governor of Chiriqui province.