The Panama Canal faces serious problems due to drought

The Panama Canal is presented as a strategic route that connects the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean, crossing the isthmus of Panama. This maritime route facilitates the efficient transit of all types of vessels. However, currently, due to drought, there is a decrease in the water level. How does this decrease in the depth of the channel impact the passage of ships and what implications does it have for maritime transport?

Panama Canal

The shallow depth of the Panama Canal is a consequence of the drought

The lack of rain causes a worrying shortage of water in the canal, affecting its ability to facilitate the transit of boats. This situation led the authorities to take measures, such as reducing the number of ships allowed, generating complications and additional expenses for shipping companies.

These are difficulties that raise questions about water management in Panama and its implications. It is estimated that the passage of a ship through the canal requires an amount of water equivalent to the daily consumption of half a million Panamanian inhabitants. This problem highlights the importance of addressing water resources in the region in a sustainable manner.

What do we know about the Panama Canal?

The Panama Canal, one of the wonders of modern engineering, has various characteristics that make it a unique and strategic waterway.

  • It extends for approximately 80 kilometers, connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean.
  • Its geographical location is strategic for international trade, providing a shorter route between the two oceans.
  • It has three sets of locks: Miraflores and Pedro Miguel on the Pacific side, and Gatún on the Atlantic side, which allow the water level to be raised and lowered to facilitate the passage of vessels.
  • Vessels transit it, from small to giant ships, container ships and oil tankers. Efficient management is essential to maintain a constant flow of international trade.

It plays a fundamental role in Panama's economy, generating significant income through transit fares and contributing to the development of the country as a logistics and transportation center.

The Panama Canal is a great work of modern engineering

Origin of the problem

In 2023, global drought and record temperatures, attributable to climate change, impacted the Panama Canal. Despite the El Niño phenomenon, which affected other countries with intense rains, Panama experienced a large deficit in precipitation, anticipating a dry summer season.

Canal authorities point out that the lack of rain and the increase in maritime traffic contribute to the difficult situation. In addition, there is an increase in water consumption, influenced by population growth and the increase in ship tonnage.

The drought, considered the worst in 80 years, significantly reduced the flow of the lakes that supply the canal. This complicates the transit capacity of ships, especially those with deep draft. Every day, 40 to 50 ships used to pass through the canal, although this number will decrease to 24 ships, starting in February 2024.

Bulk transportation companies face a significant challenge in having to make costly decisions. They are forced to weigh between waiting days to cross the canal, incurring high fees to speed up the process, or bypassing it altogether, opting for a longer route. This dilemma entails financial and strategic considerations that directly impact the operational efficiency of these companies.

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