At the Smithsonian Institute in Ancon, Panama, the first of two seminars sponsored by the U.S. Army-South (USARSO) and Panama's Ministry of Health began today. The seminars are aimed at training Panamanian citizens living in communities adjacent to Empire, Balboa West and Pina Ranges to deal with any accidental discovery of live ordnance in former U.S. military training areas.
The first seminar will be held Nov. 10-13 for citizens residing on the Pacific side of the Isthmus. The second seminar will be held Nov. 16-20 for citizens residing on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus. In compliance with the Panama Canal Treaty of 1977, the United States is undertaking a massive effort to clear former training and impact areas of unexploded ordnance prior to the required turnover of all facilities to the Panamanian Government by Dec. 31, 1999. However, a small part of the former training areas that consists primarily of steep hills and extremely dense jungle foliage cannot be cleared of unexploded ordnance without both inordinate risk to explosive ordnance disposal personnel and doing irreparable damage to watershed areas that sustain water levels of the Panama canal. These areas also sustain a wide variety of tropical flora and fauna in a mature jungle environment. As a result, of the 143,219 hectares of Canal Zone land that are scheduled to be turned over, about 3,171 hectares will not be cleared of unexploded ordnance, or about two percent of the overall land to be returned.
Since these former range areas are open and access difficult to control, USARSO and the Panamanian Ministry of Health have embarked upon an educational program, of which the announced seminars are an essential part, aimed at ensuring citizens living near these areas can identify unexploded ordnance, treat it with appropriate caution, and properly report it to Panamanian authorities.
"The project is in three phases," according to Lourdes E. Lorenzo, a sociologist in charge of coordinating the educational and environmental project at the Ministry of Health Department. "The first phase studies the socioeconomic and cultural traits of the population that lives next or close to the ranges. The second phase plans the strategy needed to get the information to the people who live close or near to these area, and the third phase is the dissemination campaign."