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George Washington University

Publication Date

Spring 2008

Program Name

Panama: Development and Conservation

Abstract

This study evaluated the water quality and accessibility of water resources in the community of Solöng located in the Naso-Teribe territory of the province of Bocas Del Toro. The seven chemical parameters of nitrate, phosphate, pH, alkalinity, total hardness, turbidity and dissolved oxygen were used to assess the safety of drinking water and the health of aquatic ecosystems utilized by the residents of Solöng. A microbiological assessment which included tests for total coliform bacteria and the fecal coliform strain group of Escherichia coli were conducted as well. Chemical tests were performed in a total of 15 spigots, 7 streams, 2 groundwater sources and the rivers Teribe and Bonyíc, and ten samples were tested for total coliform bacteria and E. coli. Interviews were conducted with community members and relevant authorities in order to gather information about the current distribution system, accessibility to spigot water, and obstacles to ideal water quality and access.

Results indicated spigot water is not treated or filtered in any way before reaching the houses, and when there are malfunctions or shortages of spigot water residents depend on streams and rivers in order to fill the deficit. The lack of treatment allows water borne illnesses to remain fairly common among the population with the parasite Ascaris lumbricoides being the most common cause of water related sicknesses. Chemical analysis showed that turbidity is problematic after rain events, because without a filtration system, the amount of sediment dredged up and carried by flowing water after storms renders the water supply unfit for drinking.. All samples that underwent microbiological testing showed a very high presence of both total coliform bacteria and E. coli. These results signify the widespread fecal contamination of the water resources available in Solöng and indicate that the residents of this community do not have access to a potable water supply.

Several obstacles prevent the community from having ideal access to and distribution of water. Defective and outdated infrastructure has become hard to maintain, and the stream that supplies water to the main distribution system can run dry during long periods without rain. A hydroelectric dam project in the Bonyíc River that is currently in its primary stages of construction also threatens to alter a valuable water resource that is depended upon for drinking and fishing.

Filtration and chlorination are essential steps in order to make the water available to this community potable. Mobilizing residents to protect their water resources and change waste disposal practices in order to minimize contamination are also critical. Although community members are capable of making some of these changes on their own, intervention and support of outside authorities with the knowledge and the resources to make improvements will be essential if this community is to obtain a safer supply of drinking water.

Disciplines

Environmental Health and Protection | Latin American Studies

 

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