This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Will be the Impact of the Nicaragua Canal?

Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the Americas, and its current population of 6 million is projected by the UN to reach 8 million by mid-century. However, the government expects Nicaraguans to be considerably better off economically because of the deal they have struck with a Hong Kong company to build a canal connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This obviously competes with the Panama Canal, but the goal is to have a wider canal than is possible in Panama to accommodate the huge cargo ships that now carry goods between Asia and Europe and North America. But wait a minute, argues a story in today's Nature. This could be an environmental disaster.
No economic or environmental feasibility studies have yet been revealed to the public. Nicaragua has not solicited its own environmental impact assessment and will rely instead on a study commissioned by the HKND. The company has no obligation to reveal the results to the Nicaraguan public.
In our view, this canal could create an environmental disaster in Nicaragua and beyond. The excavation of hundreds of kilometres from coast to coast, traversing Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking-water reservoir in the region, will destroy around 400,000 hectares of rainforests and wetlands.
The project threatens multiple autonomous indigenous communities such as the Rama, Garifuna, Mayangna, Miskitu and Ulwa, and some of the most fragile, pristine and scientifically important marine, terrestrial and lacustrine ecosystems in Central America.
The geographic key to the project is Lake Nicaragua, but this is not without its problems:
Lake Nicaragua, however, has an average depth of only 15 metres. The extensive dredging required would dump millions of tonnes of sludge either into other parts of the lake or on to nearby land. Either way, the sludge will probably end up as damaging sedimentation.
Lake Nicaragua would also serve as the reservoir for the canal's lock system, requiring dams to be constructed in an area of frequent seismic activity, which would increase the risk of local water shortages and flooding. The lake would probably suffer from salt infiltration in the lock zones, as in locks of the Panama Canal. This would transform a free-flowing freshwater ecosystem into an artificial slack-water reservoir combined with salt water. Declining populations of native aquatic fauna such as euryhaline bull sharks, sawfish and tarpon, important for sport fishing and tourism, could also suffer.
I have offered you only a partial list of the issues. I think that it is safe to say that this canal project is likely to hit some environmental snags, if not roadblocks.

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