MANAGUA._ Nicaragua has been celebrating the materialization of this long cherished dream since the construction of the canal started on last December 22: the work promises to become a valuable commercial and shipping waterway.

Nicaragua has been celebrating the materialization of this long cherished dream since the construction of the canal started on last December 22: the work promises to become a valuable commercial and shipping waterway.For Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the project represents an achievement for Latin America and the world at a time when the region “has taken a historical step towards integration and unity.”

One hundred years after the Panama Canal was built, the commencement of construction work on a similar waterway evokes new aspirations and entails new challenges.

With its final route announced last July, the Nicaraguan canal will be about 278 kilometers long; 105 kilometers of which will pass through Lake Cocibolca.

It will use the Brito River in Rivas -some 100 kilometers from the capital-, go through the aforementioned lake, and pass near the Tule River and continue on to the mouth of the Punta Gorda River. At a total estimated cost of $50 billion, it is expected to be completed by 2019.

According to official reports, the waterway will serve 5 percent of world trade transportation, double Nicaragua’s GDP and generate more than 250,000 jobs.

It will also include the construction of an airport, several roads, a free trade zone, tourist facilities, and two ports, one on the Pacific coast and the other on the Atlantic side. Nearly $200 million have been invested in the project over the past two years, according to HKND, the Chinese company undertaking the project.

As projected in the working plan for 2015, measurement works will continue in the first quarter of the year, as well as the acquisition of properties in territories close to the route and the construction of roads.

A study on the work’s environmental impact will be completed and presented during that period. Then, excavation works will follow.

An invitation to tender will be issued by the last quarter of the year for the design of the floodgates.

“We still have a lot to do and many challenges to overcome, but we will not retreat. We will apply all our knowledge and courage in the completion of this historical task (…). We have come to bring wealth and dignity and to leave poverty and underdevelopment behind,” said HKND president Wang Jing.

For Bill Wild, the project’s main consultant, the work poses a special engineering challenge due to its size – it is far greater than any existing similar works.

Analysts say the main challenges relate to structural developments, Nicaragua’s climatic conditions and frequent earthquakes.

 However, HKND says that the excavations, designs and research works undertaken to date have been both successful and efficient and ensure that the canal has a solid foundation.

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