Let me qualify that, excessive noise is bad for business and Panama- the city and the country- has been seeing a sharp increase in the levels of general noise pollution lately. Mark my words, although the tourist industry here seems totally unpreocupied about it, the excessive nerve wracking noise will eventually ruin business.
Let’s take a look at the toxic effects of constant, unrelenting noise on the human organism that medical science has tagged in their investigations regarding modern noise pollution. When noise levels reach in excess of 80 decibels it tends to cause rapid breathing and increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure, decreases gastrointestinal peristalsis causing gastritis or colitis, and causes neuromuscular problems resulting in pain and loss of coordination, decreased night vision, increased fatigue and difficulty sleeping, among others.Excessive noise in residential areas such as you find in Panama City, for instance, is the real focus of this post.
Laboratory studies observe that excessive noise reduces sharply the ability to concentrate, increases irritability and hysterical and neurotic states thus affecting productivity and increasing the frequency of accidents.
These factors are only added to the general organic damage to our aching ears and throbbing heads. When a person is exposed to more than two hours a day of excessive noise, severe injuries occur to the ear. Initially the damages can be recovered in about 10 days, but with a longer exposure, the lesions are irreparable and chronic and permanent deafness develops. Serious hearing loss and presbycusis that primarily affects older people, is beginning to be detected in younger people. Another consequence is ringing in the ears, an effect that occurs after intense noise assault.
As to the immediate reactions to noise are dilated pupils, the painful contraction of the muscles which become quite tense especially the neck and back, tachycardia, accelerated and involuntary opening and closing of the eyelids, respiratory agitation and decreased gastric secretion which makes gastric activity more difficult. Furthermore, there is less blood flow and increased muscle activity.
In patients with cardiovascular problems, atherosclerosis or coronary problems, sudden loud noises may eventually cause heart attack and in diabetics, an elevation of blood sugar which can lead to coma and even death.
We here in the once tranquil and relatively civilized residential areas of the capitol city are experiencing a dramatic increase of levels of noise contamination and it is beginning to take its toll on the residents as well as on business. Whether the city and health officials want to admit it or not- and they have had an important part in this conspiracy to permit this outright violation of any noise ordinances on the books (they do exist in Panama)- they have tacitly allowed all manner of noise producing activity to carry on at any time of the day or night, all in the name of seguridad jurídica.
In Panama, the name of Calle Uruguay no longer conjures up images of a once thriving residential area of our not-so-fair city, but of an unrelenting battle between residents and bar and restaurant and discoteque owners to put a curb on their noise generating activities.
The residents of this beleagured area of the city (Bella Vista) have now been dealing with this problem for thirteen years which, they say, keeps them, their children and older family members up all night with a constant barrage of ear splitting noise from music, traffic and general ribaldry as the clients descend upon the numerous drinking and eating establishments from the many hotels (many clients are tourists from all parts of the world) and from other parts of the city. The noise from the congested traffic that clogs this narrow street adds to the chaotic scene and the police have their hands full in attempting to keep a modicum of order.
The calamitous discomfort doesn’t seem to end for any of us living in the metropolitan area since the noise produced by the numerous large construction projects that have arisen in the city have been added to our thorny problem with business establishments. A commission was created a couple of years ago to begin to deal with this problem by the short lived Mayor Bosco Ricardo Vallarino, but little or nothing has been done.
Among the obstacles found to end the noise in the area (Calle Uruguay) is the lack of staff in the Ministry of Health to go out and measure the actual levels of noise and impose sanctions. Our Mayoress, Roxana Mendez, explained that she has asked the Minister of Health, Franklin Vergara, to delegate these functions to the municipal officials and to the National Police. She says that her institution has metering equipment and trained personnel to do the job.
Mendez added that another impediment facing the district capital is that the noise decibels can only be measured from the affected apartment, and it is difficult to identify the source of the noise because it seems to come from everywhere. In the meantime, some weak corrective measures have been instituted like eliminating the large, powerful outdoor speakers that grace the front of these establishments and remove the hawkers.
Mendez has also “appealed” to the owners of these bars, restaurants and nightclubs to regulate themselves, while creating mechanisms to be more effective as an authority. We dont’ know how vigorous these anemic measures have been since the city continues to give out permits for new establishments like these to open.
Also, the municipal as well as the National Police seem to look the other way when residents call in complaints. Just a few months ago a shoot-out broke out in one of these bars and a couple of young women were injured while the police, who were called immediately dragged their feet and their patrol car to arrive and put a stop to the violence.
I would think that all of this complacency on the part of our regaulating agencies would turn into a more aggressive attitude to bring our city back into a healthier and saner environment as this chaotic situation will enevitably take its toll on business, if that is what is most important to them.
Property values will decrease, nice people will move away and criminality and violence will increase in areas affecting business tourists, thus beginning the “death of downtown” phenomena as so many U.S. cities have experienced and the general quality of life that once may have been so attractive about Panama City will be negatively altered. We are already seeing many of these symptoms of urban decay today.