Aug. 12, 2015, Panama City
Panama’s government declares a state of emergency as it faces a drought that has prompted water restrictions, depleted reservoirs and affected shipping through its bustling canal.
The El Niño weather phenomenon is being blamed for the major drought. The state of emergency was declared on Tuesday amid calls for a government board to deliver a water security plan in under four months.
The government must make steps to develop water reserves and avoid shortages for citizens as well as food security.
Authorities have also limited the size of the ships using the Panama Canal. The shortage in water levels decreases the maximum draft allowable through the canal. The Panama Canal Authority said that the maximum draft will be cut to 11.89 meters starting September 8. This will affect 18.5% of the vessels normally traversing the link from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.
Panama’s state of emergency is expected to last two months. The data collected by the World Meteorological Organization shows that the temperature of the tropical equatorial Pacific has dropped to the target level of alarm, resulting in a decrease in rainfall to the region.
For the next sixty days Panamanians will be fined for watering lawns with potable water, fire permits are suspended and there no new irrigation permits will be issued.
Government and PanCanal meteorologists predict little rain, especially on the Pacific side, until the heavy seasonal rains come in October and November. Those annual cloudbursts, they expect, will end early and a more severe and longer El Niño dry season is predicted. Many farms and communities have lost their water sources or are about to. The ability to generate electricity at the nation’s hydroelectric dams is also threatened.