Due to the lack of rain, the Panama Canal was forced to impose traffic restrictions that should last about a year. This has had a notable impact on international trade, as the canal represents a substantial part of global maritime traffic, with around 6% of the world’s goods passing through its waters.
These restrictions include limiting the number of daily passages of ships and reducing the maximum depth allowed for vessels transiting the channel. Previously, around 40 ships could cross the channel daily, but now that number has been reduced to a maximum of 32 ships per day. Additionally, the allowable depth for ships has been decreased from 44 feet (13.4 meters) to 42 feet (12.8 meters).
The deputy administrator of the Panama Canal, Ilya Espino, explained that the duration of the restrictions will depend on the rains in the coming months. If there is a significant increase in rainfall by the end of the year, restrictions could be lifted before August 2024.
Lack of water
Water scarcity is a consequence of climate change and the El Niño phenomenon. The Panama Canal relies heavily on rainwater to operate, and the watershed that supplies the canal, made up of Lakes Gatún and Alhajuela, has not been modernized since 1935. At that time, traffic through the canal was significantly lower, and the population of the Panama was much smaller than the current 4.2 million inhabitants, half of whom depend on the canal for their drinking water supply.
The situation raises concerns about the impact on transport costs and the competitiveness of the Panama Canal relative to other maritime routes such as the Suez Canal. If costs for shipping companies become excessive, they may choose to use alternative routes, which could significantly affect channel revenue.
Despite these challenges, canal authorities are committed to finding solutions to ensure the canal remains a vital route for international trade. Uncertainty over the duration of restrictions and dependence on rainfall make the situation challenging, but authorities are vigilant and closely monitoring the situation, with the hope that a sustainable solution will be reached.