The Amazon region lacks water
The green lung of the planet is in danger. Drought and heat are particularly difficult for the world’s largest rainforest. The consequences are serious. Because low river water levels don’t just threaten fish.
DThe Amazon basin lacks what it normally has in abundance: water. The world’s most water-rich region is currently experiencing its worst drought since records began more than 120 years ago. The consequences for people, the regional economy, and the flora and fauna of South America are serious. Experts are alarmed. There are no signs of relaxation.
Recently the water levels of some of the major rivers have dropped to unprecedented levels. The consequences: supply difficulties, dead animals. “There are hundreds of thousands of people in the United States now suffering from drought,” says Rômulo Batista of the environmental organization Greenpeace.
The Brazilian Amazon spans nine states and is the size of Western Europe. It is home to a breathtaking variety of plants and animals. An estimated one-fifth of the Earth’s fresh water flows through the world’s largest and most complex network of rivers.
The state of Amazonia is particularly affected by the current drought. The Rio Negro – the Amazon’s second-largest tributary – has reached its lowest level since official measurements began in late October near the provincial capital Manaus.
According to the Geological Survey of Brazil (SGB), the river’s water level was recently at a low of 12.70 meters – the average low this month in Manaus is 18 meters, according to geoscientist André Luis Martinelli Real dos Santos of the SGB.
It is above all the population living along the banks of the river that suffers. Many of them can usually only travel on rivers by boat. Due to low water levels, numerous boats have run aground and providing communities with water, food or medicine is becoming increasingly difficult. The government of the state of Amazonas has declared a state of emergency for all 62 districts. Nearly 600,000 people are affected. “My husband went fishing and came back with nothing because there were no fish,” says farmer Ana Carla Pereira in a contribution to the Greenpeace organization.
100 dead freshwater dolphins
According to the “G1” news portal, almost 70 dead freshwater dolphins have been found in the municipality of Coari in recent days. It is about 360 kilometers from Manaus. At the end of September, over 100 dead freshwater dolphins were discovered in the same region of Lake Tefé. Although the exact cause of death is still being investigated, it can be assumed to be linked to the heat and drought currently affecting the region, the Mamirauá research institute said.
Drought periods are a natural phenomenon, says dos Santos. But what distinguishes this drought from others is the speed with which the rivers have dried up, says Greenpeace expert Rômulo Batista. “A lot of places haven’t had time to prepare.”
The situation is currently worsened by El Niño. The weather phenomenon, which occurs every few years, causes more drought and heat in northern Brazil, among other places, and will last until at least April next year, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). “Extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, forest fires, heavy rain, floods and flooding will intensify in some regions and have significant impacts,” warns WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
The world’s largest rainforest, home to 10% of all the world’s species, has been threatened by drought, river pollution, fires and deforestation for decades. Deforestation has declined since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office earlier this year. But Brazil is still far from reaching its declared goal of “zero deforestation”.
As recently as October, the megacity of Manaus was shrouded in thick smoke for days due to illegal agricultural slashing and burning and drought. “In the Amazon, fires are usually linked to deforestation. “Wet, well-preserved forests don’t just burn,” explains Mariana Napolitano of the environmental organization WWF. According to the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), more than 22,000 fires occurred in October alone, the highest number recorded in this month in the last 15 years.
The interaction between climate change, El Niño and increasing deforestation is leading to a downward spiral of ever-worsening droughts and fires, says WWF’s Edegar de Oliveira. Batista, a Greenpeace expert, adds: “We know that those who suffer the most from the climate crisis are precisely those who have caused the least global warming.”