How long have you been present in Latin America, and what are your specific projects in Panama?
SUEZ has been present in Latin America for more than 80 years. In this region, 34 million people do not have access to an improved drinking-water source; SUEZ started activities in this region building the first wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) in Lima and Brasília. Then, throughout the years, the group extended its expertise to Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Colombia. We have been operating in Panama since 2009, when SUEZ was chosen by the Ministry of Health to build and operate Panama's first WWTP. Located in Juan Diaz and in operation since 2013, this plant treats wastewater of 1.2 million people living in the capital. In 2017, the ministry awarded a new contract to SUEZ in order to double the treatment capacity of the plant to up to 475,200 cubic meters (cbm) per day. Moreover, we are currently working with the National Institution of Sewerage Systems for the construction and operation of the sewer network and a treatment plant in the city of David.
You are currently building the extension of the WWTP of Panama City; can you tell us more about this project?
The expansion of the WWTP began in May 2017 and it will last three years, during which the treatment activities of the first module must remain operational. Today, the pipes and basement are finished, and we are now completing the engineering. We are starting the construction of different buildings within a two-year timeline. In 2020, the plant will treat wastewater of 2 million inhabitants and will be equipped with a water treatment and sludge treatment line through which the treated water will be discharged in full compliance with national standards.
Why is Panama a key country regarding SUEZ's regional activities?
Over the past few years, Panama has invested the most in various project related to water treatment in Latin America. The decontamination of the Bay of Panama began in 2001 with the "Sanitation Program of the Bay of Panama." As we are leader in the water treatment field, it is highly important for us to support Panama in this challenge. Moreover, this country is an excellent platform to develop business in the region, and this is why our office in Panama is the company's regional headquarters.
What are your ambitions regarding the development of industrial activities in the country?
SUEZ has the ambition to provide urban areas and industries with effective support to meet new challenges, which are all linked to sustainable management of resources. The company's industrial business is managed by its newly created division, SUEZ Water Technology and Solutions (SWTS), which is a merger between SUEZ Industry and General Electric Water, acquired in 2017.
What are the most immediate challenges that need to be addressed in Panama?
In Panama, water cycle management is a huge challenge. When compared with Europe, water consumption in Panama is extremely high, with figures as high as 600 liters per citizen per day. In Spain, for example, the figure is about 100 liters per citizen. In Panama, this can be explained by the fact that most of the water is being wasted in leakages. We are working on improving the infrastructure to tackle this issue across Panama.