Costa Rica Sustainability Issues

The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Costa Rica:

1. Crime and Safety

Crime is a consistent and significant concern throughout Costa Rica. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers a murder rate larger than 10 per 100,000 to be an “epidemic”. Costa Rica’s is now up to 11.5 per 100,000 citizens, more than double the world’s average of 5.3, with 70% of the violence being associated with cartel violence.

Random acts of petty theft are also a primary area of concern. The most common types of theft that occur include vehicle burglary, home robbery, pickpocketing, smash-and-grab, mugging, and purse/wallet snatching. Armed robberies occur as well.


Heavily armed police officers patrol the western San José district of Pavas. (The Tico Times)


2. Income Inequality

Income inequality in Costa Rica is much higher than the OECD average and high by Latin America standards, despite considerable progress in other well-being dimensions such as health, environment and life-satisfaction. Furthermore, income inequality has been rising in recent years, in contrast with most Latin American countries where it has been falling. In 2015, the average disposable income of the 10% richest households was 32 times higher than that of the poorest 10% (up from 27 times in 2010), much higher than the OECD average of 9.6 times. Measured by the Gini coefficient, disposable income inequality in Costa Rica was 0.49 in 2015, more than 50% above the OECD average of 0.32.

The highest contribution to inequality among all income sources is made by the wages of qualified workers in the public sector. Its contribution averaged 31% in the period 2010-2014, while the contribution made by their peers in the private sector was 28%. 


A schoolgirl in the Ngäbe/Guaymí indigenous reserve in Coto Brus. (Guillermo A. Durán/Flickr)


3. Natural Disaster Preparedness and Impact

Costa Rica ranks number two in the world among countries most exposed to multiple hazards, with 77.9 percent of the population and 80.1 percent of GDP located in areas at high risk of multiple hazards, including floods, cyclones, landslides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. 

Heavy rains and flooding are frequent in Costa Rica. The Terraba River is always overflowing causing flood damage. In 2017, there were 841 natural events, including storm Nate that caused damage in 76 cantons. Authorities recorded ¢236,000 million in losses in road infrastructure and ¢21,000 million in damage to homes. 


Residents of the Northern Zone town of Bijagua on Nov. 30 look over the rubble left behind by Hurricane Otto. (Courtesy of Casitas Tenorio/Facebook)


4. Obesity

Rich or poor, no country is immune to the rapid rise in overweight and obesity among both adults and children. A 2017 article in the Tico Times said obesity in Costa Rica has quadrupled since the 1970s. Almost a quarter of the adult population is obese, and more than 60.4 percent of people are deemed overweight. Even the adolescent population is suffering from obesity: 8.1 percent of children under five are overweight. Moreover, data from the School Weight and Height Census (2016) indicate a prevalence of malnutrition of 2 per cent in pupils aged 6 to 12 years, while 20.3 per cent were overweight and 14.2 per cent were obese. In other words, 34.6 percent of the national school population has excess weight.

Costa Rica has a human trophic level of 2.4 as of the last survey (2010) with another survey scheduled for 2020.


Researchers found that the percentage of overweight Costa Ricans rose from 24.9 percent to 36.1 percent. (Alberto Font/The Tico Times)


5. Unemployment

Costa Rica unemployment rate saw a 0.01% decline from 2017, but remains high at 8.13%.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) almost 75 million people under the age of 25 are unemployed. Olman Segura Bonilla, the Minister of Labour in Costa Rica, believes that despite the fiscal and economic problems that many countries are facing, it is better to invest money in improving the situation of today’s youth.


Attendees at a 2015 job fair aiming to decrease unemployment for women and young people. (Ajita Chowhan/The Tico Times)