The Amazon region lacks water
The planet’s green lung is in danger. Drought and heat are particularly hard on the world’s largest rainforest. The consequences are serious. Because low water levels in rivers 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 the 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.
The water levels of some of the most important rivers have recently fallen to an unprecedented level. The consequences: supply difficulties, dead animals. “There are hundreds of thousands of people in the states who are now suffering from this drought,” says Rômulo Batista, from the environmental organization Greenpeace.
The Brazilian Amazon extends across nine states and is the size of Western Europe. It is home to a dazzling array of plants and animals. It is estimated that one-fifth of Earth’s freshwater flows through the world’s largest and most complex network of rivers.
The state of Amazonas is particularly affected by the current drought. The Rio Negro – the second largest tributary of the Amazon – 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 recently reached a minimum of 12.70 meters – the average minimum this month in Manaus is 18 meters, according to geoscientist André Luis Martinelli Real dos Santos, from SGB .
The population along river banks, in particular, is suffering. Many of them can normally only travel on rivers by boat. Due to the low water level, numerous boats have run aground and supplying communities with water, food or medicine is becoming increasingly difficult. The Amazonas state government declared a state of emergency for all 62 districts. Almost 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 organization Greenpeace.
100 dead freshwater dolphins
According to the news portal “G1”, almost 70 dead freshwater dolphins were found in the municipality of Coari in recent days. It is about 360 kilometers from Manaus. At the end of September, more than 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 related to the current heat and drought in the region, the Mamirauá research institute said.
Dry periods are a natural phenomenon, says dos Santos. But what distinguishes this drought from others is the speed with which the rivers dried up, says Rômulo Batista, a Greenpeace specialist. “A lot of places didn’t have time to prepare.”
The situation is currently being worsened by El Niño. The climate phenomenon, which occurs every few years, causes more drought and heat in Northern Brazil, among other places, and will last at least until April next year, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). “Extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, forest fires, intense rains, floods and floods will intensify in some regions and have significant impacts”, warns WMO Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas.
The world’s largest rainforest – home to ten percent of all the world’s species – has been threatened for decades: by drought, river pollution, fires and deforestation. Deforestation has decreased since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office at the beginning of the year. But Brazil is still a long way from reaching the declared goal of “zero deforestation”.
Also in October, the megacity of Manaus was shrouded in thick smoke for days – the result of illegal slash-and-burn agriculture and drought. “In the Amazon, fires are generally linked to deforestation. “Wet, well-preserved forests don’t just burn,” explains Mariana Napolitano, from the environmental organization WWF. According to the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), there were more than 22 thousand fires in October alone – the highest number for this month in the last 15 years.
The interaction between climate change, El Niño and increased deforestation is leading to a downward spiral of increasingly severe droughts and fires, says WWF’s Edegar de Oliveira. Greenpeace expert Batista adds: “We know that those who suffer most from the climate crisis are precisely those who have caused the least global warming.”