Panama, as you well know, is a tropical country filled with amazing rainforests. Surely images of high humidity and rain immediately fill your head of what the country, in general, must look like. However, for the past one and half years much of Panama has been experiencing a drought. The rains simply have not come.
The typical rainy season in central Panama is from about the first of April until mid-December. It is typical in our community, at the base of a cloud forest, to experience rains nearly every afternoon, shortly after lunch that continue on to mid or late afternoon. However, in 2013, this normal pattern did not take form. We went days without rain. The red clay soils dried and cracked and the plants drooped with thirst for rain water. The grasses remained brown from the dry season well into what should have been the wet season.
The effects of the dryness also was noticed in the community. Our small reservoir, fed from the mountain streams, could not keep up with the demand of the community. The streams were not being refreshed by rain water and soon our taps were dry as well. We would go entire days without a drop of water coming to our faucets. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, some water would make it down the line and it was at this time that tired women would get up and wash a load of laundry or clean the dishes. Everyone began to save plastic soda bottles to fill with water to use for cooking and cleaning during the day.
This problem of a lack of water in the communities has persisted for the past year and half. We even had some guests who marveled at the fact that they could "shower" with just one gallon of water a day. It is amazing what you can do when needed!
We worried that again this year we would go without the rains as it is already mid-August (remembering that the rains should come in April). How happy is everyone with the falling of the rains this week, turning the grass and plants brilliant shades of green and filling the streams again. What a welcomed sound to hear the frogs and toads singing at night and for our shoes to be colored with wet red clay!
We hope that the missing of a rainy season was just a one time event, but we all fear that it is more. Climate change has come to the cloud forest and rainforests. It is time to take note of the lack of water and do what we can to change our habits for the sake of the environment. Maybe taking showers with just a gallon of water shouldn't be something we do only when camping or in cases of emergency, but rather something we consider doing on a more regular basis, in Panama and around the world.