Anders Bekeken

100 Places To Remember: The Panama Canal Panama

Geschreven op 17-5-2010 - Erik van Erne. Geplaatst in Natuur Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

A High-Cost Shortcut. After a previous unsuccessful attempt to construct a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the United States succeeded in building a canal through Panama in the early 1900s. A total of 27,500 workers paid for it with their lives, dying in landslides and of diseases like malaria and yellow fever during one of the biggest and most difficult engineering projects in history.

The Panama Canal opened in 1914, revolutionising shipping traffic by providing an alternative to the long, exhausting journey around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. The new waterway between the two oceans reduced the journey from New York to San Francisco from 22,500 km to 9,500 km. Today, about 4% of all world trade passes through the canal, making shipping the most important industry in Panama.

The canal does not feed on ocean water but on fresh water, which pours in from 17 artificial, interconnected lakes. As the water flows into a series of locks, the ships are gradually raised almost 26 metres above sea level, meaning that the Panama Canal consumes three times more water in a day than the city of Los Angeles.

Shipping companies are deploying larger and larger ships nowadays, so a $5 billion expansion of the canal is scheduled for completion by 2014, the centenary of its opening. The expansion will require even more water. Water shortages have already forced Panama to close the canal on several occasions in recent years and, because the feeder lakes are dependent on rainfall, not enough may be available.

Increasingly frequent El Niño events, believed to be generated by global warming, may further reduce water resources in future by changing rain patterns and causing extensive droughts. This will disrupt shipping traffic all over the world and have a huge impact on the economy and people of Panama.

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