Impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño Event in Panama

Maria Donso, Carlos Vargas, Marquel Castillero, David Martinez, Kevin Leaman and Nakayama, Mikiyasu (2000). Impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño Event in Panama. Reducing the Impact of Environmental Emergencies through Early Warning and Preparedness in the Case of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). United Nations University.

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    Author Maria Donso
    Carlos Vargas
    Marquel Castillero
    David Martinez
    Kevin Leaman
    Nakayama, Mikiyasu
    Editor Maria Donso
    Title Impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño Event in Panama
    Series Title Reducing the Impact of Environmental Emergencies through Early Warning and Preparedness in the Case of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)
    Publication Date 2000
    Place of Publication Panama City
    Publisher United Nations University
    Pages 29
    Language eng
    Abstract The Canal authorities do not have the resources to forecast El Niño events and, therefore, it depends on the information that it acquires from international institutions that forecast and monitor the ENSO cycle. The different experiences gained during the El Niño events of 1982-83 and 1997-98 highlight the importance of obtaining early warning of these events to guarantee better management of the watershed’s resources. It is not difficult to imagine what might have happened to the operations of the Panama Canal during the 1997-98 event if in 1984 the Canal authorities had not decided to further deepen the navigable channel of the Canal or if the forecast of the 1997-98 event had been delayed. Newspaper, radio, television, and other forms of media are important channels through which to disseminate information about climatic events. They are also important forces that can either contribute to the mitigation of the impacts of such events by alerting the opinions of the general public, or can cause unnecessary unrest (even hysteria) when the intensity of the event is exaggerated. In the case of the 1997-98 El Niño, the media did not influence the decisions or actions undertaken by the PCC with regard to the waterway. The PCC conducted its business based on its experiences during the 1982-83 El Niño, and its interpretation of information coming from sources such as NOAA. As a matter of fact, the local media generally based its coverage of the situation as it related to the Panama Canal on press releases issued by the PCC’s Office of Public Affairs. This was not the case in relation to other sectors, such as agriculture, where speculation from some media agencies sometimes ran wild. In general, the treatment of the 1997-98 El Niño by the local media was relatively professional. The reason for such moderate reporting on the effects of the 1997-98 El Niño in Panama could be that enough catastrophic footage of impacts was coming in from Peru and Ecuador, and later from Honduras (after the passage of Hurricane Mitch), that there was no need to exaggerate the situation. Thus, the media could have “attractive” headlines. In summary, as stated by the PCC Administrator, Alberto Aleman Zubieta, the rapid response of the Canal’s authorities to the 1997-98 El Niño demonstrated their capacity to handle major problems. The action plan implemented in response to this extreme climatic event was based on the interpretation of information coming from adequate sources such as NOAA, enhanced by input provided by local experts, and the expertise gained by the PCC during the 1982-83 event. However, the continuous and accelerated changes in land use that are taking place in the Canal watershed calls for a permanent monitoring of the basin and a constant verification of the models that simulate the response of the Canal system to climate variability.
    Copyright Holder United Nations University
    Copyright Year 2000
    Copyright type All rights reserved
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    Created: Wed, 10 Nov 2021, 13:13:38 JST