Streets in Panama: Streets in poor condition and traffic accidents: Are both problems related?

Last week a 62-year-old patient died in an ambulance at the Hospital Ezequiel Abadía de Soná while being transferred back after performing a CAT in Penonomé. The ambulance in which the man was going fell into a hole that caused the tire to come off, as confirmed by the images of the accident that circulated in the media.

The impact of the accident cut off the patient’s oxygenation, and although another ambulance from the Social Security Fund arrived to relieve him, the man did not survive.

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This is one -perhaps the most serious so far reported- of the cases of automobile accidents that derive from the bad state of the streets throughout the country. A dragging problem that not only includes the lack of maintenance of the tracks, but also the poor quality of the materials that are used the few times that maintenance is carried out, in addition to the lack of follow-up and supervision.

In each of the first five months of this year there have been more car accidents than in the same months last year. Official statistics show that in January 2022, 2,539 road accidents were registered, which represent 62.97% more than those registered in the same month of the previous year. And so on: 41.5% more accidents in February 2022 vs February 2021; 13.83% more accidents in March; 21.4% more in April and 26.38% more accidents in May.

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According to Ibero-American Road Safety Observatoryof which Panama is a part, both accidents and injuries and fatalities gradually decreased from 2018 to 2020, then shot up again in 2021. And so far in 2022, the balance resulting from the 13,290 accidents recorded by the Observatory It is 3,126 injured and 101 fatal victims until May.

Although accidents are recorded by type – collision, run over, fall, shock, overturn and others– What the statistics do not say is whether the overturning was caused by the poor condition of the road, therefore it cannot be determined with certainty how many deaths can be directly attributed to the negligence of the institutions in charge of maintaining the roads. This is why cases such as the one involving the ambulance that had an accident after falling into a hole revive the debate on the maintenance that the Ministry of Public Works (MOP) and its contractors carry out –or not– and its effect on the day-to-day life of the population.

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Criticisms on social networks show a growing frustration in the population due to the poor state of the avenues and streets. Berta Tunon (@BertaTC) expressed his outrage at the event in a tweet that accumulated more than 780 likes and at least 270 retweets.

Tuñón also told this medium that “ It is a chain of negligence from both the Ministry of Health and the MOP and no one is responsible”.

Another user complained of a fall into a hole in the sector of the golf breezes where “ thank God the car did not bounce to the main one, but the repair of it came out for B. / 180.00, which the government does not reimburse you”.

The networks have also documented the many adventures of motorists and cyclists who dodge or fall into the different holes in the road arteries. Nor is there a record that allows us to know how many cyclist or motor vehicle accidents could have been avoided if the street was in good condition.

See also: Know how many parts of your car are damaged by falling into holes

The problem is travel data, but every day the danger it represents for those who circulate on the roads, drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, is much greater. The doctor Eliecer Cherigo said in his partner networkl in 2021 that “ The issue of holes in the streets of Panama goes beyond the imminent damage to vehicles, but rather the deaths they can cause, either by those who justly try to avoid them or those who collide by falling into them.”.

On the other hand, the MOP reports show a maintenance plan that seems to be executed in a parallel reality to the feelings of the majority of Panamanians who do not see its effects. In a special report After two years of government, the MOP said it had served 2,500 kilometers of roads “ in maintenance and patching” and another 1,314 km in rehabilitation, while executing a “ Maintenance Program by Standards for the rehabilitation and long-term maintenance of the 2,000 kilometers of main roads in the country, which represent 10% of the road network, but on which 80% of vehicles travel”.

Next, the report specifies that said plan “ we are working hand in hand with the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank”. All of this within a economic recovery plan” which includes through the Law 93 on Public-Private Partnerships (APP) with investments for $2.5 billion and whose execution promises about 5 thousand jobs between 2022 and 2024.

The version of the Minister of Public Works contacted the Minister of Public Works, Rafael Sabonge about the poor state of the streets in Panama and the complaints of citizens who do not see concrete actions.

“It is an issue directly linked to the institution’s budget. In 2019 the MOP budget was more than $1,100 million, this year, without counting the capital transfers sent to the Panama Metro, it is $385 million, of which $56 million were recently blocked by the Ministry of Economy and Finance to contribute to the fuel subsidy”, highlighted the Minister of Public Works.

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Budget issues, bureaucratic procedures and plans that are being executed through the Public-Private Partnership Law were part of the arguments raised by Sabonge.

“Notwithstanding the foregoing, we have sought a mechanism to tender works throughout the country, with financing included (turnkey). Despite all the bureaucratic obstacles, most of these 26 projects are already in their final phase for endorsement and orders. Among these, we are about to put out to tender in the coming days the rehabilitation of 65 km of roads in the citySabonge said.

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Rekha is a journalist from the University of Panama. She was economics editor at La Estrella de Panamá and correspondent for the magazine Mercados & Tendencias. She founded the journalistic blog Con las manos en la data, which she currently directs while collaborating as a freelancer for various national and regional media. She is finishing a postgraduate degree in Higher Education and has just won a scholarship to start a Research Master’s Degree in Political Ecology and Alternatives to Development at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar.

Streets in Panama: Streets in poor condition and traffic accidents: Are both problems related?