Panama canal faces unprecedented water crisis

The Panama Canal is in a water crisis due to lack of rainfall. The capacity for daily passages has already been limited and further measures will be taken to deal with the emergency, dozens of merchant ships are waiting in front of the Canal, unable to cross it

The Panama Canal, one of the world’s most crucial waterways, is grappling with an unprecedented water shortage crisis. Hundreds of ships are currently waiting to traverse the canal, as recent rainfall has not been enough to alleviate the situation.

Ongoing impact of prolonged dry season

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has reported that the canal is still suffering from the effects of last year’s extended dry season, limiting the daily transit capacity. Unlike other waterways like the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal relies on rainwater collected in the artificial Gatun and Alajuela lakes.

These lakes supply the water necessary for the canal’s lock operations, which typically manage about 6% of global maritime trade. However, this year the El Niño weather phenomenon has worsened the situation, causing a drought that has forced the ACP to reduce the number of ships allowed to pass each day and the draft size of each vessel.

Imminent additional restrictions

Despite the onset of the rainy season, the water issue for Panama and its canal remains unresolved. The ACP has announced that starting July 11, the maximum allowed draft for ships will be increased to 48 feet, and from August 5, a maximum of 35 ships per day will be permitted to transit.

These temporary measures aim to mitigate the crisis’s impact, but the ACP acknowledges the need for long-term solutions. To tackle the water shortage, the ACP has called for identifying alternative water sources and developing storage projects. These initiatives are crucial to ensure the canal’s sustainability, which in 2023 saw the transit of 511 million tons of goods, generating revenues of $34 billion.

The Panama Canal is essential for global maritime trade, and its efficiency is vital for the world economy.

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