Amid continued controversy and skepticism, the Nicaragua Canal Development Investment company has announced Nicaragua canal construction is to begin Dec. 22.
Despite still not having a finalized route, the company plans to begin construction and have the canal operational by 2020.
The long-rumored canal is being spearheaded by Chinese billionaire Wang Jing, Chairman and CEO of the privately held international development firm HKND Group, headquartered in Hong Kong.
The canal is estimated to cost US$50 billion; however many doubt the feasibility of the project. The planned route would be 210 to 285 kilometers long, 520 meters wide, and 27 meters deep.
Beyond the engineering obstacles facing the project, many environmental concerns have been raised as well. According to Smithsonian magazine, 1,500 square miles of forest, wetlands, and coastlines would be disrupted, covering nine protected areas, and endangered species in the area would suffer, along with a loss of clean drinking water provided by Lake Nicaragua, smack dab in the center of the canal’s path.
It has been reported that the project could involve displacing up to 30,000 people living along the canal’s path, involving forced evacuations in some cases. Despite demonstrations and claims that the canal is a sell out to China, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega boasts that the canal will be an economic boon for the country.
Wang has commented several times that he has no formal ties to China‘s government, but rumors still persist. It’s hard to imagine that a Chinese national with that amount of wealth, undertaking a project of this size, would not be connected in some way to the totalitarian Chinese government.
If the project does see completion, it would serve as serious competition to the Panama Canal, which itself is just finishing an expansion. While the construction is set to begin Dec. 22, note that this is still just the beginning, and completion is still a long ways away.