LatinNews Daily - 31 May 2023

In brief: Panama declares environmental emergency over drought

* Panama’s government led by President Laurentino Cortizo has declared a nationwide environmental emergency due to a prolonged drought as a result of climate change. According to the environment ministry, high temperatures and lack of rain are a preamble to the arrival of a possible El Niño weather phenomenon which could reduce the availability of water for human consumption and agricultural activity across the country. According to the government, the Alhajuela and Gatún artificial lakes, the main sources of water for the Panama Canal and indeed over half of the country’s population have been drastically affected by a prolonged dry season. The resolution authorises the agricultural development and environment ministries, the water and sewage utility (Idaan), the national public services’ regulator (Asep), and the institute of meteorology and hydrology (IMHPA), to award special contracts necessary to address the state of emergency. Also indicative of the impact of the drought, earlier this month, Octavio Colindres, a spokesperson for the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), was widely cited by the media as saying that the drought is forcing container vessels to reduce their loads and pay higher fees. According to a Bloomberg report published on 19 May, as of 24 May, neo-Panamax ships – the largest that the canal can handle – will be allowed drafts of up to 44.5 feet (ft), down from an already restricted 45ft, with the draft limit to again decline to 44ft on 30 May.

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