Later on Monday afternoon after we ate lunch, we went upstairs in the CATHALAC building to speak with Joel Perez about how climate change has affected Panama. We discussed the differences between hazards (natural disasters, physical conditions) and vulnerability (cultural, political, economic dispositions of a community). Joel explained that the main hazard that Panama has faced recently has been an extended dry season, causing drought conditions that leave the impoverished rural communities particularly vulnerable. The most important question Joel left us with was this: What kinds of information or data could be useful to these communities. In later meetings with cooperative and JAAR members of Santa Fe, we learned that our much of our research could be used to help the Santa Fe community, as we shall see in further blog posts.
After our early afternoon sessions were all over, we drove out to the Mira Flores lock of the Panama Canal. The canal’s museum was located near the lock, so we were able to learn more about the history of the canal. We saw some very useful demonstrations of how the locks work as they raise and lower the water level so that ships can pass from the Caribbean to the Pacific and vice-versa (I’ll admit, I really didn’t understand myself until I saw them in person).
We learned that each boat requires about 52 million gallons of fresh water to cross the canal. Many plants and purification centers are located near the locks, so they are able to sell both water and electricity. What I found most interesting was that the canal was forced to close in 1997 due to an extreme drought caused by the El Niño. The effects of El Niño in Panama baffle me, because the event seems to have the opposite effect on most of the country compared to the rest of Latin America. I’ll have to research this more closely when I return stateside!