A new report reveals glaring inequalities in electoral participation, as well as access to education, health services and modern amenities among Costa Rica’s 469 districts. Social development in the Central Valley and in tourist towns on the Pacific coast is vastly greater than in the border regions and on the Caribbean coast, according to the report, released this week by the Ministry of Planning (MIDEPLAN).
“This is a crucial moment to keep the country from becoming a bipolar…society (with) entire geographic areas and social groups left behind,” said sociologist Jorge Mora, a former rector of the National University (UNA) in Heredia.
To gauge social development, the ministry measured electricity consumption, Internet coverage, abstention in local and national elections, child mortality, school infrastructure, second-language education and access to potable water.
Researchers also counted the number of underweight children and babies, adolescent mothers, school dropouts and single teacher schools.
Chirripó, an indigenous town east of San José, had the lowest social development, while Asunción de Belén, northwest of San José, had the highest. On a provincial level, Heredia is the most privileged, while neighboring Limón, on the Caribbean coast, is the least.
Ministry official Mario Robles said the report will help the 81 municipalities better distribute resources to their districts. It will also help President Oscar Arias’ administration decide where to target scholarship programs and build roads and schools, he said.
“The society has to squeeze the juice out of these studies,” said political expert Constantino Urcuyo.
The Arias administration assigned $9 million to the municipalities this month, with more money going to areas the Planning Ministry identified as less developed.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a report in September showing development at a municipal level. But Planning Minister Roberto Gallardo said such analyses can be misleading because they ignore stark inequalities within a municipality.
For instance, the district of downtown Santa Ana, southwest of San José, is ranked eighth in social development, while Salitral, a district just three kilometers away, is ranked 137th.
Gallardo stressed that tourist towns, such as Tamarindo and Jacó on the PacificCoast, tend to have high social development. But while touting tourism as a source of jobs and investment, Gallardo acknowledged that excessive growth has hurt the environment.
“Of course that’s not the kind of tourism we want to see here,” he said.
Rural areas tend to be worse off, the report said. Some 46.2% of the population, living on more than 94% of the land, had “medium,” “low” or “very low” scores on the social development scale.