News / Americas

Panama Canal Turns 100 Amid Growing Pains, Competition

Panama Canal Turns 100 Amid Growing Pains, Competitioni
X
Mil Arcega
August 13, 2014 11:23 PM
The Panama Canal turns 100 this week. Officially opened in 1914, the 77-kilometer channel joins the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean at the isthmus of Panama. It made the world smaller, creating a shortcut for cargo ships that ply their trade from east and west. But 100 years later the canal is straining from the demands of expanding global trade. And as Mil Arcega reports, it may also be facing some serious competition as it navigates the next 100 years.

The Panama Canal turns 100 this week. Officially opened in 1914, the 77-kilometer channel joins the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean at the isthmus of Panama.  It made the world smaller, creating a shortcut for cargo ships that ply their trade from east and west.  But 100 years later the canal is straining from the demands of expanding global trade.  It may also be facing some serious competition as it navigates the next 100 years.

Taking over 30 years to build, tens of thousands of workers - and more than 27 million kilograms of dynamite - it is considered one of the biggest engineering feats of the 20th century.  

"The Panama Canal is one of those phenomenal moments in history.  A terrific example of engineering and technological strength of the United States, and really the coming of age of the United States as a global power," said University of Maryland Professor Julie Greene, author of the book "Canal Builders."

But the work exacted a heavy toll.  By the time the first ship crossed the canal, nearly 26,000 workers had died, some from accidents, many from malaria.

But it also changed international commerce forever, especially in the U.S., says George Washington University professor, Noel Maurer.

“Because it enabled for the first time oil from California and lumber from the Pacific Northwest, but it was really the Californian oil that was driving the boat, to be profitably exported from California to the rest of the United States, and that had huge economic benefits for the United States," Maurer said.

Today more than four percent of the world's commerce passes through the canal - some 14,000 ships per year. But the canal's locks are now too small for much of the world's container fleet and the largest oil tankers.

Transportation expert Rodney McFadden says bigger ships can be more efficient and profitable.
 
“They carry more cargo for about the same amount of money per mile.  They are much easier on the environment," he said. "And they increase trade."

A Hong Kong company is backing a $40 billion plan to dig an alternate route through Nicaragua.  If successful, it could pose a serious challenge to the canal.  

But critics say the project is redundant and impractical, especially when the Panama canal is in the midst of a $5 billion expansion.  Once complete, the new locks will accomodate ships the length of the Empire State building and as wide as three basketball courts.

Autodesk, the San Francisco - based company that created the software for the project, is thrilled.  Not only has the expansion created over 250,000 jobs - once finished - it will create thousands more around the world, says Autodesk spokesman Paul Sullivan.

"The ripple effect here is interesting because once this canal is completed and these ships are able to transit the canal,  you’re going to see a lot  more cities around the world competing for improving their ports so they can support those larger ships," he said.

Of the approximately 160 ports in the U.S., only about 15 can accommodate the larger supertankers that will pass through the expanded canal.  By early 2016, experts say this grand canal will be able to handle 97 percent of the world's container ships - doubling the canal's capacity and ensuring it remains a marvel of engineering a hundred years from now.

You May Like

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid

More Americas News

US-Cuba Move Ends Decades of Island's Isolation

Cuban revolution, outreach to Soviets set off years of antipathy between Washington, Havana
More

Colombia's FARC Rebels Declare Conditional Unlimited Ceasefire

Group says it is also demanding high-profile certification of its ceasefire through the UN, Red Cross or regional intergovernmental organization
More

American Lawmakers, Others Split on US-Cuba Moves

Some praise approach; Florida Senator Rubio denounces ‘victory for oppressive Cuban government’
More

An Elated Alan Gross: 'It's Good to be Home'

'This is a game changer,' newly-freed political prisoner tells audience, referring to his release and the US policy shift toward Cuba
More

Over $6 Trillion Lost to Illicit Flows

Study says developing nations hurt by corruption, tax evasion
More

New Policy Will Dramatically Alter US-Cuba Relations

Plan will renew diplomatic ties, ease restrictions on travel and remittances, altering how Cubans and Americans can interact
More