Water canals have played an important role in shaping the global economy and the functioning of societies for centuries. Connecting seas, lakes and rivers, they facilitate transportation, trade and communication. They are artificial watercourses, but also living artifacts of history. They support local and international water transportation and facilitate the daily movement of ships. We present a list of the world’s most famous water canals, which are not only engineering marvels, but also important elements of local economics and history.

The world’s largest waterways

Canals connect natural waterways to make it easier for ships to navigate and reduce their travel time, which is especially important for domestic and international trade. Some of them can be particularly congested, making them the busiest transportation routes in the world – 14,000 people pass through the Panama Canal. Ships per year, carrying 3-5 percent. goods transported in this way worldwide. Germany’s Kiel Canal, on the other hand, is considered the busiest waterway in Europe. They are also an important element in water resource management – often used for irrigation, flood prevention, tourism or energy production.

Depending on the purpose, channels can be distinguished:

  • shipping;
  • land reclamation;
  • industrial and energy;
  • flood control.

A water channel connecting two seas is a shipping channel, while rivers and lakes are inland waterways.

The most important water channels in the world include:

1. the Panama Canal (Panama)

It is considered one of the busiest and most important sea lanes in the entire world. Since 1914. Acts as a link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It has a length of approx. 80 km. The oceans that the canal connects have different water levels, so locks were necessary. The history of the Panama Canal is quite complicated, as several countries attempted to build it. As a result, it was financed by the Americans. Thousands of workers died during its construction, mostly from tropical diseases.

Historically low water levels in the Panama Canal, the result of an extreme drought in 2023, have led to a reduction in the number of ships that can pass through there – 24 ships per day instead of 31 since last November, and from February 2024. Further reductions are planned, up to 18 units. There used to be as many as 36-40 ships a day passing through the canal. The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has also had to lower the draft limit for ships from 50 to 44 feet, which forces a reduction in the weight of cargo carried.

The world's largest waterways 1

2. the Corinth Canal (Greece)

It is the narrowest canal in the world. It is bounded on both sides by rocks up to 76 meters high. It is 6.4 kilometers long and 8 meters deep, making it also the deepest canal in the world. It connects the Gulf of Corinth in the Ionian Sea with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It is now almost completely out of service due to the size of the ships. Large vessels are used in transportation, which are unable to cross the Corinth Canal. It flows only about 15 thousand. ships per year.

3. the Suez Canal (Egypt)

It is one of the most used sea lanes in the world and the most important shipping channel. It connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean, separating Asia from Africa. It has a length of 193 kilometers. According to the Constantinople Convention, it can be used during global conflicts, as well as in peacetime, by any merchant ship. Now, the canal authority is implementing a new sustainable operations strategy to By 2030. Declare the Suez Canal green.

4th Grand Canal (China)

It is the longest and oldest artificial canal in the world. It is about 1,800 kilometers long and stretches from Beijing in the north to Zhejiang province in the south. It reached the peak of its development in the 13th century, during the Yuan Dynasty. Since then, it has provided a unified inland waterway network, consisting of more than 2,000 km of artificial waterways and linking five of China’s most important river basins, including the Yellow River and YangtzeRiver. It has played an important role in the country’s prosperity and economic stability and is still used as a major means of communication. In 2014. The canal is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The world's largest waterways 2

5. Kiel Canal (Germany)

It is considered the busiest waterway in Europe. Approximately 250 ships pass through it every day, and more than 30,000 vessels pass through every year. transits. The Kiel Canal, 98 kilometers long, allows ships to avoid the longer route through Denmark (Jutland Peninsula), considered quite unstable, and save an average of 250 nautical miles. It is equipped with a network of radars, providing information on the position of ships and threats, and thus being a safety net for navigation in difficult conditions.

6 Wellandz Canal (Canada)

It is usually open from late March to late December. During the other months, it is drained, and all necessary maintenance work is carried out on the locks. The Welland Canal is used annually by an average of 3,000. ships, carrying 40 million tons of cargo, mostly bulk. It can also be used by pleasure boats, yachts and cruise ships. The canal allows you to bypass Niagara Falls to continue your journey through the Great Lakes system.

7th Karakum Canal (Turkmenistan)

It is, after the Grand Canal in China, one of the longest canals in the world. It is 1,445 km long and runs through the Kara-kum desert (from turkm. Garagum, literally. “black sand”) – one of the driest places on Earth. This gives it a prominent position among the world’s desert irrigation projects. It is navigable and irrigates nearly 10,000. km2 of land, planted with cotton, among other crops.

The construction of water canals alone is not only a gigantic infrastructure investment that cost billions of dollars, but also claimed many lives. It would seem that they are a thing of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth – the Istanbul Canal project is one of the most important contemporary projects of its kind with global significance. Turkey has planned an artificial waterway connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, and thus with the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Its length is planned at 45 kilometers. It is estimated that the construction will cost $25 billion, and Turkey’s likely annual profits from this investment will be $8 billion. However, the researchers stress that the current project does not include sustainable environmental solutions.

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