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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

Millions Expected for Masses as Pope Starts South American Tour

Thousands of worshipers camped out overnight in Ecuador awaiting Pope Francis, who begins tour with open-air service in southwestern city of Guayaquil
More

Right to Die: Colombian Man Ends Life with Government Backup

After heated public debate and last-minute legal challenges, 79-year-old becomes first Colombian to die as result of government-sanctioned euthanasia
More

3 Mexican Journalists Assassinated in Week

Rights groups call on Mexican authorities to thoroughly investigate recent murders in Oaxaca, Veracruz and Guanajuato
More

Ecuador Is Prime Example at Heart of Pope's Climate Stance

Pope Francis begins his South America tour this weekend in country that is prime example of tensions between politics, business and environment
More

Experts: US-Cuba Moves Likely to Deepen N Korea’s Isolation

Korea University professor sees US-Cuba normalization as 'quite an ideological eye-opener' for Pyongyang, a longtime Havana ally
More

Pope to Tour 3 South American Countries

Grueling, week-long trip will showcase Francis at his unpredictable best: speaking his native Spanish on his home turf about issues closest to his heart
More