Panama Canal drought, linked to El Niño, highlights climate fears
02, May 2019
Prelims level : Panama Canal and its geography | Concept of El nino Mains level : What are the reasons for frequent recurrence of El Nino?
- A cargo ship transits the Panama Canal on its way to the Atlantic Ocean, while tree trunks that used to be submerged are exposed due to the low water levels of Gatun Lake, Panama.
The driest period in memory for the canal basin is also hitting small indigenous villages that depend on tourism along the tributaries of the inter-oceanic passage.
- An intense drought related to this year’s El Niño phenomenon has precipitously lowered the level of Panama’s Gatun Lake, forcing the country’s Canal Authority to impose draft limits this week on ships moving through the waterway’s recently expanded locks.
- The restrictions on how deep the vessels can reach below the surface means large ships, primarily from the United States and China, must pass through with less cargo, which translates into lower revenue for the voyages.
- The driest period in memory for the canal basin is also hitting small indigenous villages that depend on tourism along the tributaries of the inter-oceanic passage.
- The economic hit to canal operators stands to be minor an estimated $15 million this year, compared with the $2.5 billion in revenue generated in 2018.
- But the drought and the resulting restrictions highlight the difficulties Panama faces in satisfying increased demand for fresh water to feed the canal while irrigating fields and keeping the taps flowing in the capital as climate change threatens more extreme weather events.