panama canal privatization freshwater lake

A Wider Canal Need Not Maximize the Harm
river shipping aboriginal

In Panama, too, Elites Privatize Profit and Socialize Cost

Poor people lose their water, homes, and land, but to forces beyond their control? Or can the geoist ethic harmonize everyone’s interests? We trim and blend two 2009 articles from (1) the Gatún Lake Defense Committee, May 12, on the canal by Bert G. Shelton (Research Scientist and Professional Engineer), and the Defense of Lands and Waters, April 14, on evictions by Leila Shelton-Louhi (via reader John Morales).

by Bert G. Shelton and by Leila Shelton-Louhi

The effective privatization of rivers progresses in Panama. To these actions is added the imminent threat to Panama's largest freshwater reserve posed by the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Gatún Lake is the source of freshwater for hundreds of thousands of people, and among the largest man-made lakes in the world. Polluting it would provide captive consumers for those owning "private" sources of this essential resource.

Simple changes to the current expansion plan would protect it while providing a far more profitable Panama Canal. Several more effectively engineered alternatives are based on proven methodologies.

The Panama Canal’s cargo capacity would be nearly doubled by the planned expansion, which is to add a single new lane for transiting Post-Panamax ships. However, is the chosen single-lane system in the best interest of shippers and of society?

An alternative single-lane system has locks like those currently planned but with 4 chambers (instead of 6) and 2 tanks per chamber (instead of 3). It would use 45 (instead of 52) million gallons per transit. This system would not only use fewer parts and less water, it would not need a dike over geologic faults, plus it would spare Gatún Lake from becoming brackish.

However, an unexpected problem at any chamber can shut down a single-lane system. To avoid shutdowns, a two-lane system with 8 chambers -- and no tanks -- that also uses 45 million gallons per transit could replace the currently planned system.

Water use could be further reduced to 30 million gallons per transit by using a recent design improvement that adds 8 tanks to a similar system.

In either two-lane case, a dike across faults would be avoided and Gatún Lake would be protected from salt intrusion.

However, building a single-lane of 50% more chambers and 125% more tanks than actually needed increases profit to the lock builder. Plus, every added element adds maintenance -- i.e. future business. To supply operating water fattens the dredging contracts for those who will deepen the canal’s 35 miles of channel between the Atlantic locks and Pacific locks. Furthermore, a dike between Gatún Lake and Miraflores Lake will be very expensive … all to be paid for by society!

Because a fault could slip and rupture the dike, it cannot be guaranteed. Thus, what is now planned puts both the canal and inhabited areas -- like Panama City -- at risk.

For the special interests that recently have acquired rights to many of Panama’s rivers, flooding Gatún Lake with brackish water will create a huge market for their freshwater. With Gatún Lake ruined, other special interests that have long wanted to install industries within the Canal Zone could do so.

The Naso Tjerdi aboriginal people of Panama have always lived along the Teribe River and San San River near the Border of Panama and Costa Rica on the Atlantic Caribbean Side in the Province of Bocas del Toro.

As the government troops descend on them, launching teargas, the natives are dispossessed. No longer can they run to the fields to dig up the yucca and ñame, roots they’ve planted to sustain them, and cut down bunches of plantains or bananas.

Men, women, children, and the elderly are forced to watch as their homes with all their possessions, their community center, their church, and every other structure is crushed by bulldozers. Holes are dug into which the debris is shoveled and covered up, wiping out all traces of their existence. The process repeats itself, moving through the mountains, village by village.

Villagers are left to their own devices with the clothing on their backs and nothing more.

On May 12th, 2009 reports were received of arms taken up against more defenseless villagers in Panama by those continuing to invade their ancestral lands.

For more, visit click here and click here

Also see:

Same old story -- less habitat, more pollution

Some of the poor refuse eviction while one writer rekindles George

And we will have to pay even more tomorrow

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