Discussion Group on Social Participation for Sustainable Development

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"You don’t appreciate what you don’t know"

On Thursday, May 17th, the Benjamin Ayechu auditorium of the University Santa María la Antigua was the spot for the third of the seven-conversation cycle "Panama on the road to sustainable development", organized by the City of Knowledge Foundation (FCDS), the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

This discussion group focused on social participation for sustainable development and counted with the interventions of three specialized panelists. Amelia Sanjur, coordinator of the Social Research Team and Community Relations of the ACP, emphasized in her speech the constant presence of the Canal watershed in our lives: "Water management is, in fact, a conflict management. Hence, to deal with environmental impacts, one has to do it from many disciplines and not just from the natural sciences". According to Sanjur, creating opportunities for participation and developing relationships facilitate the achievement of an integrated management of water resources and improve the quality of life of the inhabitants of the basin. To ensure this well-being she considered essential to count on people and highlighted the existence in the basin of community meetings, 30 local committees and 6 advisory boards.

The second presentation was conducted by Lourdes Lozano, independent consultant in environmental management, which focused on social participation in the use of mangrove ecosystems. According to Lozano we are in a development model based on waste and in a region that is very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Therefore she stressed the need for social participation in the use of mangrove ecosystems, with emphasis on education and the transformation of culture and knowledge: "You have to approach it from a socio-emotional aspect, since you don’t appreciate what you don’t know."

Mangroves are ecosystems that provide many services and serve as interface between land and sea. Today, they face many threats, such as the purchase of coastal areas and islands, tourism, spills, extractions, poverty and pollution. Lourdes Lozano highlighted the revaluation of the mangrove and its contribution to the capture of CO2 and other gases, and cited as an example the fact that any forest in Panama can capture three times less CO2 than a similar area of mangrove. She also stressed the importance of teaching the value of sustainability, sharing its benefits, building on well-organized participation and strengthening the capacities of people.

Alida Spadafora, Executive Director of the National Association for the Conservation of Nature (ANCON), analyzed the participation of civil society in the field of sustainable development. Noting that the current trend is the plundering of the Planet in an unsustainable manner, she recalled that the Rio Summit of 1992 adopted Agenda 21 to achieve sustainable development, although some of its principles are not being met. She also noted the delay of Panama to adopt its own commitments to the Rio Summit. According to Spadafora, "there is a great need to develop civil society and build spaces for social participation, but sustainable development rests today in the informal sector, especially in NGOs, so we have to implement Agenda 21 and for this you need political will". Spadafora stressed the importance of involving more participation and integrate different visions, and lamented, "these opportunities for participation have never been so closed as they are now".

Dr. Guillermo Castro, Academic Director of the City of Knowledge Foundation, concluded the question and answer session with a reflection on the need for the university to submit to Panama the problems that must be addressed, in order to encourage and facilitate the search for solutions.

This cycle of seven conversations is meant to be a window that fosters a culture of environmental sustainability among participants and attendees. They are addressed at students and academics, governmental and nongovernmental organizations and society in general.