Nicaragua is preparing the construction of an interoceanic canal that will be the longest and largest canal on Earth. An environmental and social impact assessment was published in 2014 supporting a general viability of the canal. Nonetheless, several scientists and societal actors raised serious concerns regarding the social, economic, and ecological sustainability. Despite an open dispute within the Nicaraguan society, no independent, transparent, and scientifically sound assessment has been carried out.
This article presents a transparently documented and comprehensible impact assessment of the West Canal Segment of the Nicaragua Canal. Based on publicly available data and scientifically sound and recognized methods, land use, hydrological (water availability), and socio-economic impacts (population, transportation/communication) are described, quantified, and compared with official declarations in the impact assessment.
The examination of official declarations discloses significant ambiguities concerning the methodology and data used for the impact assessment. Consequently, the results presented are at least partly doubtful. When compared with official declarations, the main results of this study reveal: (1) significantly more forested areas (+53.7 km²) and areas of extensive agriculture/near nature (14.4 km²), but far less urban and intensively used areas (− 39.6 km²) are affected by the canal; (2) A population of nearly 16,500, and several regional or locally unique transportation and communication routes are directly affected by the canal construction; and (3) a slightly lower water availability (−6.6%) and a much higher water demand for lock operations (+31.8%) were estimated. Accordingly, only about 20% of the lock water demand could be met by locally-available discharge.
The authors acknowledge support by the German Research Foundation and the Open Access Publishing Fund of Technische Universität Darmstadt.