Panama Canal

Posted by on May-2-2009

Labour is the source of all wealth. Marx was right. Every human advancement has Human effort as its base. Every landmark in human history is a product of human toil. The Pyramid, The Chinese wall, the Taj Mahal every thing has a lot of human pain behind it. The Suez Canal and Panama Canal, which changed the pace of commercial advancement, saw a lot of human blood and sweat. In fact Panama saw more blood than Suez.

The 80 km long, 150 meter wide man made canal connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans has seen a lot of human lives being sacrificed for its creation. The French were over confident after the construction of the Suez and felt that the construction of Panama Canal would be a “cake walk” and they began work in a rush with insufficient prior study of the geology and hydrology of the region. The pre- construction surveys were not done in a serious way. There was no proper analysis about the infrastructural facilities. The French were greeted by landslides and diseases like Malaria and Yellow fever, killing 22,000 of employees, ranging from laborers to the directors of the company. The poor medical facilities worsened the problem. Employees began to flee, making it difficult for the company to carry on with the work and they had to abandon the project.
Later American President Theodore Roosevelt initiated the project and appointed John Frank Stevens as the chief engineer. The Americans purchased the machinery from the French and started the work on May 4 1904. John Frank Stevens concentrated in building the infrastructure necessary to complete the canal. He rebuilt the Panama Railway and devised a system for disposing of soil from the excavations by rail. He also built proper housing for canal workers and oversaw extensive sanitation and mosquito-control measures that eliminated yellow fever, malaria and other diseases from the Isthmus. Later in 1907 Roosevelt appointed George Washington Goethals as Chief Engineer of the Panama Canal. The building of the canal was completed in 1914, two years ahead of the target date of June 1, 1916. The canal was formally opened on August 15, 1914 with the passage of the cargo ship Ancon. The improvement in infrastructure resulted in a relatively low death toll during the American construction, still, 5,609 workers died during this period. This brought the total death toll for the construction of the canal to around 27,500.

Since opening, the canal has been enormously successful, and continues to be a key channel for international maritime trade. The canal can accommodate vessels from small private yachts up to large commercial vessels. The maximum size of vessel that can use the canal is known as Panamax, but a lot of modern ships exceed this limit and are known as post-Panamax or super-Panamax vessels. A cargo ship approximately takes 8-10 hours to pass through the canal.

By the 1930s it was seen that water supply would be an issue for the canal; this prompted the building of the Madden Dam across the Chagres River above Gatun Lake. The dam, completed in 1935, created Madden Lake, which acts as additional water storage for the canal. The canal still faces a number of problems, but competes with Suez canal and possess an important position in the maritime world.

When ever I sail through this 94 years old water body, I remember Marx’s words and the water reminds me of the tears and sweat behind its making.
A question still haunts me, is the canal worth 27,500 lives???

  1. KattyBlackyard Said,

    The article is ver good. Write please more

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