Since the end of May, the country has been living in a state of environmental emergency throughout the territory due to severe weather conditions that could worsen with the early arrival of El Nino.
The Panama Canal Authority has announced on its website the water-saving measures it is taking in the face of the drought currently affecting this Central American country and which could “become worse soon due to the arrival of the El Nino phenomenon, which brings with it the onset of advance of the 2024 dry season”.
In this context, the Canal has explained that “it will continue to maintain water saving measures during the rainy months to recover the level of the lakes and thus guarantee the water resource for human consumption without affecting, as far as possible, transits through the interoceanic route”. At the same time, it has been warned of the inevitable consequences of the economic shock.
Environmental state of emergency
Already at the end of May, the National Cabinet Council declared a state of environmental emergency throughout the territory of Panama due to the prolonged drought “as a consequence of the climate crisis affecting the world”. For their part, the Canal has reiterated that the scarcity of fresh water in the national territory is real.
“It is an issue that the Panama Canal has been warning about for many years. We simply never knew in what year a case like the one we are experiencing now would occur, but it could happen at any time,” said the Canal administrator, Ricaurte Vasquez Morales.
The official also recalled that the last period of intense drought in the country was recorded in 2019 and 2020 and that these climatic events usually have a five-year cycle. However, according to the severe weather conditions that Panama is currently experiencing, these terms are being reduced to three years. According to Canal statistics, this month of May has turned out to be the driest since 1950.
water saving measures
In order to guarantee water resources for the population and to continue offering “a reliable and competitive service” to ships during this drought, since January the Canal has been taking a series of water-saving measures in its operations:
- In the old Panamax locks, crossed lockages are made (combining the water from one side of one lock to another).
- The transits were scheduled in such a way to reuse as much as possible the same availability of water within each of the chambers for more vessels to transit.
- In the modern Neopanamax locks, the direction of transit and the scheduling of the north and south vessels are being reviewed in order to make the maximum use of the water.
It is indicated that in the event that the current weather conditions worsen even more, the Canal could implement some extreme measures, including limiting the number of daily transits. “Currently we transit between 35 and 36 ships per day; we should go down to 32 and 28 transits per day,” Vasquez Morales anticipated.