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PRESS RELEASE March 15, 2018

The World Bank Approves an Innovative Project for Indigenous Peoples of Panama


Washington, March 15, 2018—The World Bank Board of Directors approved a US$80 million project today to improve the infrastructure and quality of health, education, water and sanitation services in 12 Indigenous territories of Panama. The innovative project is based on the priorities established by the Indigenous communities and their traditional leaders.

The loan will support the implementation of the Comprehensive National Plan for Indigenous Peoples of Panama. The program aims to support the capacity of Indigenous Authorities and the Panamanian Government to work together to plan and implement development in Indigenous territories. It also aims to improve the quality, cultural relevance and sustainability of investments in Indigenous territories.

“This support in the Development Plan is important as the Indigenous peoples have shared their development vision with the national government. These are isolated communities which need access to roads, schools, medical clinics, and water, all the while maintaining their culture and identity, defending their territories and protecting the natural resources that are life for the Native Peoples and the country,” said Guna Yala Indigenous community leader Maximiliano Igwayoikiler.

Although Panama has one of the strongest economies in the Latin American and Caribbean region, there is persistent inequality. This is especially true among Indigenous Panamanians, most of whom live in poverty. The country is also particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and the effects of climate change, which disproportionately affect Indigenous communities, who depend on the natural environment for food.

In the short term, the project will focus on urgently needed infrastructure and equipment prioritized by Indigenous communities and their health, education, water and sanitation officials. In the medium term, the project will support the design and pilot-testing of programs to improve the cultural relevance of those services. In the long term, the project seeks to transform the capacity of the government and Indigenous leaders to plan and invest in Indigenous territories, in keeping with the vision and priorities established by those communities.

 “From the outset, this government has been firmly committed to defending and promoting human rights in which increased participation of Indigenous peoples and state policies to improve their quality of life are central issues,” said María Luisa Romero, Interior Minister of Panama. We recognize the rights of native peoples as the backbone of Panamanian culture.”

The project will directly assist some 200,000 people through improved infrastructure and better quality and cultural relevance of services provided in their communities. The country’s Indigenous population, estimated at 418,000 people, should also benefit from support for better governance. That includes improvements in the visibility of Indigenous groups, recognition and exercise of their rights, and inclusion in the country’s prosperity.

The program is also expected to contribute to national climate change objectives by applying sustainable standards and practices to the construction of health, education, water and sanitation facilities.

“This project is an important step towards improving the social mobility of Indigenous peoples and reflects the World Bank’s commitment to supporting the most vulnerable populations,” said Seynabou Sakho, World Bank Director for Central America.

This innovative program, aims to support a comprehensive development model based on proposals by Indigenous communities that were agreed upon with the government.

The project draws on the World Bank’s experience in different sectors and countries with Indigenous peoples to address issues including inclusion, development and access to information and data, systems to provide intercultural services, and permanent roundtables for coordination between the government and Indigenous leaders. This project seeks to create a comprehensive development platform that can be replicated in other countries.

The total project budget is US$85 million, of which US$80 million will be financed with a loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). The 25-year loan will have a grace period of 5.5 years.

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