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The Panamanian non-governmental organization FUNDICCEP (Fundación de Desarrollo Integral, Comunitario y Conservación de los Ecosistemas en Panamá), in coordination with the national authorities, has applied to the Rapid Response Facility (RRF) for funding for urgent analysis into the capacity of Río Chiriquí Viejo watershed, near La Amistad Biosphere Reserve, to inform the lobbying for a moratorium on development. By promoting participation in decision making and informing communities of legal considerations, rural communities will be empowered to defend their natural resources when faced with future threats.

The government of Panama is currently pursuing a programme of hydroelectric dam development with dozens of new dams planned or operational nationwide. Several dams are within the vicinity of the UNESCO natural World Heritage site, Talamanca Range - La Amistad Reserves, a transboundary area shared between Panama and Costa Rica.

Lack of adequate impact assessment before construction is threatening the survival of aquatic and forest ecosystems through disturbance to water courses, deforestation and associated impacts such as road development. One watershed particularly affected is Río Chiriquí Viejo, which drains part of La Amistad Biosphere Reserve and the Pacific province of Chiriquí. The traditional livelihoods of communities within this watershed are under threat because of potential impacts on their water resources.

Important learning experiences will come from organizations working to defend the World Heritage site from similar threats on its Caribbean side (the Changuinola dam), as well as another RRF-funded project in Belize that responded to damaging dam development.

The Rapid Response Facility is an emergency small grant programme that provides rapid support to allow immediate responses to major threats to wildlife conservation, primarily in UNESCO designated natural World Heritage sites. The RRF is financially supported by the United Nations Foundation, the Arcadia Land Trust and Jet tours, and aims to process emergency funding requests of up to US$30,000 in just 8 working days.

For more information about the RRF visit www.rapid-response.org, or send an email to rrf@fauna-flora.org.