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Navigating in uncertain waters...Droughts and challenges, from the Mississippi to the Rio Negro, passing via the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal, essential to world maritime trade, is faced with a historic drought. Due to the lack of water, the authorities have decided since October 2023 to reduce the transit of ships from 40 to 32 a day and reduce the authorised draught. These measures are aimed at maintaining the trust of clients in the face of a year 2024 predicted to be very dry. Maritime companies are concerned by the economic impacts, particularly regarding supplies for the end of year festivities. Tens of ships are queuing, with a waiting time reaching 21 days, causing global concern over delays and costs. Despite these challenges, the Canal’s financial results for 2023 have been excellent, but the drought raises questions about the sustainability of water resources and the need to find long-term solutions to ensure the canal’s navigability.

As for the Mississippi, it has undergone a prolonged drought lasting several months in the Midwest, leading to a considerable fall in its discharge. This situation has caused the influx of saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico in its bed, jeopardising the local economy. This salinisation is affecting drinking water, requiring emergency measures such as the distribution of bottled water. The authorities are combating the progression of saltwater with submerged dams of debatable efficiency while the Mississippi delta suffers, aggravating ecological and economic problems.

The Rio Negro, a major river of the amazon region, is undergoing a historic drought caused by El Niño, and has fallen to its lowest level in 121 years. This situation has brought river transport to a standstill, with an impact on 633,000 people in Amazonia. The rapid fall in the water level has isolated some communities, leading to the closure of schools and disturbing economic activities, especially tourism. The shortage of drinking water, supply problems and increased transport costs have created a humanitarian crisis. Attempts by the government to improve navigability and the distribution of food aid are mitigating the situation, but the persistence of the drought raises challenges for the long-term.

These situations demonstrate the vital role played by rivers in our globalised societies, the need for sustainable, concerted management that reconciles uses, and stronger adaptive measures, both in reaction and in terms of long-term planning.

Synthesis of articles from the newspaper Le Monde.



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