Panama and Puerto Rico are the latest countries to be hit with devastating drought. Panama officials blame the drought on El Niño as does Honduras. A drought in the Panama Canal is especially problematic, as this was built to join the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans without having to go around South America. Many of those ships are what are known as Panamax ships, ships that are the maximum size able to travel through the canal. Now, there are restrictions on what is called draft, which refers to a ship’s depth underwater, which is inversely proportional to its mass. Without a change in weather patterns, more restrictions on draft are forthcoming. Ships that cannot use the Panama Canal may be forced to go more one hundred times the distance of the canal. Brazil alone has 7,000km (4,375 mi) of coastline, compared to the 77km(46 mi) of the Panama Canal. The other option is to go around the horn of Africa, but then they are risking attacks by pirates.
Currently, almost 20% of shipping through the canal is no longer possible, and many more ships might face restrictions in the near future, unless better weather is on the way. About 5% of global shipping is done by way of the Panama Canal, so this 20% loss amounts to about 1% of global shipping. This may seem relatively minor, but the shipping industry is massive. Of all the trucks on the highway, the vast majority of them probably acquired their load from a ship. Of course, Panama is facing the threat of wild fires and insufficient drinking water, and there are restrictions in place with respect to these too. Panamanians are not allowed to use drinking water for watering lawns and golf courses. There is also a fire ban. We will watch for wild fires in Panama in the coming weeks.
Puerto Rico may be experiencing a deeper drought than California. At least 20% of their land is in exceptional or extreme drought. Those same areas were in moderate drought only a month ago. Farmers are having trouble feeding cattle and have not planted crops in some areas. Water rationing there has affected school children, who now must attend school for only four days a week instead of five, and the four days are shorter too. Schools may also been forced to change their menus in response to severe water rationing. The changes currently affect over 100,000 students. Puerto Rico is also facing severe economic problems. They are in debt $72 billion and are insolvent. Their economy is facing a crippling recession. It is in the face of this that Puerto Ricans, already undergoing austerity, must adhere to a punishing water ration. Denizens only have access to water every three days in some places.
In other news, a crippling drought in Mexico has cut crop production by 40%. This could lead to soaring prices of beans and corn, staples of the Mexican diet. The Mexican government has already handed out $2.5 billion US dollars to provide drought relief and enhance infrastructure. 22 of 32 states are in drought.
Unfortunately, the tragic events we reported on are in no way a full reflection of what has been going on in the world. If you would like to see all of our headlines from the past week, please click here.