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One of the world's busiest trade routes is at risk – climate change is having a serious impact

One of the world's busiest trade routes is at risk – climate change is having a serious impact

The Panama Canal, key to global trade, is facing severe drought conditions that threaten the safety of the route, through which $270 billion in annual traffic passes. What clearly indicates the crisis is the finding underwater of tree trunks that were submerged more than a century ago during the construction of the canal. The Panama Canal authorities are studying different solutions to solve the problem. Among them

Creating an artificial lake pumps water into the canal as well as artificially increasing rainfall.

However, implementing these measures may take years, and their feasibility is uncertain.

Due to the water level being approximately two meters lower than usual, the number of ships passing through the canal daily had to be reduced. This has prompted some shipping companies to avoid the crucial stage, at much higher costs, and choose longer routes to Africa or South America.

The canal's problems highlight how climate change will affect global trade.

Drought causes water levels in major rivers to fall, such as the Mississippi River in the United States and the Rhine River in Europe, while rising sea levels increase the risk of flooding along the River Thames in Britain. Under normal circumstances, about 3% of global maritime trade and 46% of containers shipped from Northeast Asia to the East Coast of the United States pass through the Panama Canal. In addition, Panama's largest source of income is the shipping route, which will contribute about $4.3 billion to the state treasury in 2022.

Experts hope that the weather will turn wet again and raise the water level in the canal to the ideal level. However, in the long term, due to chronic water shortages, other solutions have been considered: as a basic solution, they are considering filling the Indio River and tunneling through the mountains to bring fresh water to Gatun Lake, the main source of the canal. tank. This project, along with additional conservation measures, will cost about $2 billion and take at least six years. The US Army Corps of Engineers is currently preparing feasibility studies for the investment.

However, the proposal faces challenges. Congressional approval is required, and thousands of farmers whose lands would be flooded to build the reservoir are organizing in opposition to the idea. Experts attribute the canal's problems to two reasons: climate change and infrastructure expansion.

In 2016, the canal authority built new locks to increase traffic and accommodate larger cargo ships, but did not build a new reservoir for fresh water supplies.

Cover image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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