Drought Threatens International Trade Traffic in Panama Canal

A lack of rainfall has forced the Panama Canal, one of the world's most important shipping routes, to reduce shipping traffic.

The water supply crisis is threatening the future of this important maritime route which links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Around six per cent of all global maritime shipping passes through the canal, mostly from the US, China and Japan. For the fifth time this drought season, which lasts from January to May, the Panamanian Canal Authority (ACP) has had to limit the largest ships passing through.

Alajuela and Gatun are the two artificial lakes that supply water to the Panama Canal. It requires around 200 million litres of water to flow down a series of tiered locks into the sea in order for each ship to pass through.

Rainwater is the source of these reserves that power the locks, which can be up to as much as 26 metres above sea level.

The ACP says that from 21 March to 21 April, water levels in Alhajuela fell by seven metres - more than 10 per cent.

"The lack of rainfall impacts several things, the first being the reduction of our water reserves," Erick Cordoba, the ACP's water manager, said.

It also affects business "with the reduction of the draft of Neopanamax vessels, which are the largest vessels transiting the canal" and the ones that pay the most tolls, he adds.

In 2022, more than 14,000 vessels with 518 million tonnes of cargo passed through the waterway, contributing USD 2.5 billion to the Panamanian treasury.

Canal administrator Ricaurte Vasquez recently acknowledged to Panamanian website SNIP Noticias that water shortage was the main threat to shipping in the canal.

In 2019, fresh water supplies dropped to just three billion cubic metres - a long way short of the 5.25 billion needed to operate the canal.

It set alarm bells ringing for authorities who worry that uncertainty could lead shipping companies to favour other routes. The water crisis also has them searching for solutions.

Source: Qatar News Agency

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