By-Water Logistics: The Secret Economic Gateway, Two Thousand Years Ago

      The Allies knew they would not reign victorious in WWII without a superior logistics system. Well, if you think that was strategically impressive some fifty years ago, the same foresight took place in China some twenty five centuries ago, even before Christ was born, and it’s operational costs were far more effective back then without the technological know-how we have now. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, China’s Grand Canal is the longest man-made waterway in the world to-date with a total length of approximately 1,776 km (1,104 mi). The passage’s primary contribution saw the thrive and demise of dynasties. Many parts remain operational for logistics purposes even today.

     Why all the trouble, if there’s not already a natural channel? Historians and economists would say, effective by-water/by-sea logistics opens the economic gateway for the entire region. Why? There are several reasons but nonetheless, pretty much, because it’s the only channel that makes sense economically. By-water logistics offers the following unique benefits over other channels:

  1. Scarce heavy necessities and resources that are not available locally will never make sense economically to be imported from far away regions unless hauled by-water (and there are decreasingly fewer self-sufficient communities out there, enjoying the middle path). Because when it comes to long-distance hauling of massively heavy cargos, the freight cost per item being shipped is the least, i.e., taking everything into consideration; energy consumed, voyage time, handling force, other operational costs, and the amount of goods that can be shipped from point A to B in one trip. There isn’t any other hauling technique that is assisted with Mother Nature’s wind and tides, with “and sun” to be added to the push, soon. That said, ships way back when really did use clean free energy sources + manual power, primarily. Although it’s safer and faster today, we messed that part up a little bit. Although alternative energy sources for by-land hauling, such as natural gas and hybrid technologies, become increasingly viable, energy sources for by-water vehicles would have advanced along the same lines, where it would have been of no substitute, anyways (see our “Wind-Power Cargo Ships Making A Comeback”).
  2. Given the former point above, with access to scarce necessities from far away sources, e.g., gasoline, construction products, steel and minerals, and agro products, in a cost effective manner, allows further in-land developments and interconnected networks between modes of transport in locations that can be reached by-water, i.e., more waterways, railways, and/or motorways as feasible. Up until the rise of the railway system in the 1820s, where the use of the steam locomotive saw an Industrial Revolution and an import-export economy across the globe, water was the lone channel to inhabitability transformation, hence, more canals would be built for otherwise isolated locations further in-land, where development lacked logistics-ability. (Stay tuned for “Steam Locomotives and The Industrial Revolution”)
  3. Minimal land transportation. For Uncle Sam’s children, the American Dream means a big house in the suburbs with a white picket fence – and a two-car garage. Getting in to the 21st century, though, a very different reality is shaping up as more people live in big cities, vehicles all over the place, and nowhere to drive it over 20 miles an hour. If everything goes according to business as usual, a new report released by the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment stated that car ownership in megacities such as London, Shanghai and New York City are expected double by 2030 if something doesn’t change. As roadways of the early 21st century are becoming too congested and unreliable from logistics standpoints, unless there is no usable by-water routes in comparison, cargo should never leave the vessel and transited for land hauling until the route no longer makes sense to continue by-sea. Thus, by-land is minimized by computing the best hauling route scenario that takes all modes in to consideration; by-water, air, and land, therefore, to minimize the utilization of land transport, which thereby adds more congestion to the already jammed system with more big slow polluting cargo trucks.
  4. Nonperishable goods vs. fuel costs. Since nonperishable goods are of no rush to reach the destination in a timely manner, slower but much cheaper by-water transports could save traders a fortune in comparison. In other words, when it comes to hauling heavy nonperishable goods over long distances, water reigns superior by a huge margin. It’s not your best option. It’s your only option. 

     By-water transport is the center pillar where everything else projects from. The logistics of civilization itself is why the 1,776 km longest-ever man-made waterway was built some thousands of years ago. Stay tuned for our next article that goes in “China’s Grand Canal: World Longest Man-made Waterway To-Date, Two Millennials And A Half Ago”.

Compile by BLOG.SCGLogistics

Share this post