Background Gradient


Panama is a country located in the south of Central America with a population of more than 4 million inhabitants. Despite being a relatively small country, having a mountainous topography and a diversity of altitudes and wetlands as well as proximity to both oceans, Panama has a variety of climatic zones. Panama can be subdivided into three main climatic regions: the Caribbean region is the hottest and most humid zone. On the other hand, the central zone is more temperate and dry. Finally, the Pacific region has a tropical climate but is drier. The diversity of climates and altitudes creates diverse challenges in water management.

Household surveys provide us with data representative of the entire population, which are validated by statistical institutes and allowing cross-checking with other information such as area, income and gender. The 2018 Multipurpose Household Survey, was applied to 11,678 representative households and collects some data on water and sanitation according to WHO/UNICEF guidelines. Notably, it is the only survey in the region that allows estimating seasonal differences in the continuity of piped water service. However, the survey does not correctly distinguish water and sanitation categories which makes it difficult to estimate SDG 6.1 and 6.2 indicators.

For more information on why OLAS uses household surveys, click here.

Data sources:

Progress Towards Measuring SDG 6


Access to water and sanitation in Panama varies significantly between urban and rural areas, where urban households enjoy much higher access coverage. Approximately 36% of Panamanians live in rural areas.

Inequality in Panama is evident when viewing the income quintiles of the country’s 2018 household survey. Each quintile represents 20% of Panamanian households, with the 1st quintile representing the lowest per capita income, and the 5th representing the highest income in the country. Income inequality is a problem in Panama, as the average income of the top quintile households is 19.7 times higher than that of the bottom quintile.

Average monthly household income by quintile in local currency


Urbanization rate



Water access

Water access

Most of the people in Panama live in urban areas where they have better access to water than those in rural areas. Because the EHPM does not distinguish between piped water to the home and the land, we do not know what percentage of the people have access to water in their homes. However, generalizing piped water to include water piped into homes and on plot, we can see that approximately 79% of rural households have piped water access, compared with 97% of urban households. 8% of the population does not have access to an improved water source.

Split data by:

Water Access Data by Quintile and Access Area

The above sankey diagram shows water access data disag by community (rural/urban), income quintile, and type of water source. When hovering over the diagram, the number displayed shows the ratio of respondents that fit into the category on the right that come from the category on the left. Because the EHPM does not differentiate between in-home piped water and piped water to the plot, all respondents that reported having piped water are considered in the piped water to plot category.

Sanitation Access

Sanitation Access

Households in urban areas generally have higher access to sanitation than in those in rural areas. The EHPM does not distinguish between sewer connections and septic tanks but looking at the data we can say that 85% of the urban households have access to flush toilets, compared to only 42% of rural households. Rural households are also much more likely to have no sanitation facilities (13% compared to less than 1%) or share a toilet (17% compared to 4%). Income also affects access, with almost none of the top percent of households lacking facilities, while the approximately 17% of the bottom quintile have no access to sanitation facilities.

Split data by:

Sanitation Data by Quintile and Access Area

The above sankey diagram shows sanitation access data broken down by community (rural/urban), income quintile, and type of facility. When hovering over the diagram, the number displayed shows the ratio of respondents that fit into the category on the right that come from the category on the left.

Water Resources

Water Resources

Water Availability

Panama has 0.1% of the fresh surface water in the world and an extensive hydrological network made up of 52 watersheds and 500 rivers. On the Atlantic slope, which occupies about 30% of the national territory, there are 18 watersheds with 150 rivers; the other 34 watersheds and 350 rivers are located on the Pacific slope. The greatest water demand is concentrated on the Pacific slope where 83% of the population lives and where more than 70% of economic activities are concentrated. Water availability is estimated at 119.5 km3/year, which corresponds to 31,521 m3/person/year for 2018. About 95% of the potable water in Panama comes from surface sources (rivers and lakes), while the remaining 5% comes from groundwater.

Water Stress

Panama is classified as a country with low water stress. Availabile water resources are decreasing in Panama, which is mainly due to steady population growth and variability in precipitation patterns. This trend is exacerbated by an increase in levels of contamination and sedimentation of water bodies caused by discharge of wastewater and waste, uncontrolled use of agrochemicals, inadequate agricultural practices, and deforestation. All of this combined poses major challenges for drinking water supply and quality in the medium and long term.

Wastewater Treatment

Panama treats 57.2% of its wastewater. The six rivers that cross the capital of the country receive high loads of wastewater (domestic and industrial) with little treatment. This is to be reduced through the Panama Sanitation Program (PSP), which includes modules I and II of the Panama City Wastewater Treatment Plant, already in operation in its first stage. In addition, the Santiago Wastewater Treatment Plant in Veraguas province is currently under construction.

Water and Sanitation Management

Water and Sanitation Management

Institutional Framework

The water and sanitation sector in Panama is composed by different government entities with defined functions, among which the following stand out:

  • the Ministry of Health, Ministerio de Salud (MINSA) – MINSA is the governing entity of the sector and in charge of communities with less than 1,500 inhabitants;
  • the Public Services Authority, Autoridad de los Servicios Públicos (ASEP) – ASEP functions as Panama’s service regulator; and
  • the National Aqueduct and Sewerage Institute, Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantarillados Nacionales (IDAAN) – IDAAN is the service provider for communities with more than 1,500 inhabitants.

Development Programs and Plans

Panama has different plans and programs with objectives to increase access to water and sanitation, among which are the following: