TEFE, Brazil (HPD) — Just months after enduring floods that destroyed crops and submerged entire communities, thousands of families in the Brazilian Amazon now face a severe drought that, at least in some areas, is the worst in decades.
The low level of the Amazon River, at the center of the largest river system in the world, has put dozens of municipalities on alert.
The rapid decline in the river’s water level is due to less than expected rainfall during August and September, according to Luna Gripp, a geoscience researcher who monitors levels in the western Amazon River for the Brazilian Geological Survey.
As most of the state of Amazonas is not connected by roads, the main concern of the population is the shortage of food, fuel and other goods that are normally transported by waterways. In Tefe, a city of 60,000 along the Amazon River, large ships have been unable to reach the centrally located port.
The situation is even more critical in the dozens of communities scattered throughout the region surrounding Tefe, where some 3,500 families have been affected. Many lakes and streams have dried up, eliminating access to the Amazon River and thus to nearby cities, which function as commercial hubs.
In the community of Sao Estevao, fishermen have postponed fishing for pirarucú, the largest fish in the Amazon, because the boat that transports what they catch to the city cannot dock. The legal fishing season runs until the end of November. If the water level doesn’t rise soon, the community of seven families will lose a significant source of income, fisherman Pedro Canizio da Silva told The Associated Press in an audio message.
About six months ago, the community suffered losses due to a more intense than expected flood season.
“I lost my plantain and cassava crops. Also, the alligators and anacondas got closer to us due to the flooding and ate some of my ducks and chickens. The water under my house built on stilts almost reached the floor,” Canizio recalled.
In the indigenous community of Porto Praia, the nearby tributary of the Amazon River has become a vast stretch of sand that during the day becomes too hot to walk on. A trip by motorboat to Teje, which normally takes about 90 minutes, now takes four hours, Anilton Braz, the local leader, told the HPD, because the water level is so low in some parts that it is necessary to row instead of using the motor.
The local water source has become muddy and there are no alternatives, Braz said. “We are afraid that our children will get diarrhea and other illnesses,” he said.
The situation has prompted the Tefe council to declare a state of emergency to speed up the provision of aid to families, but support has so far been scant. “The mayor has sent some food,” Braz said.
The local civil protection agency reported that 53 of 62 municipalities have been affected by floods and drought in the state of Amazonas this year alone. The driest season, known locally as the “Amazonian summer,” generally runs from June to December in this part of the rainforest.
In a region as large as the Amazon, the severity of the drought varies.
In Porto Velho, the capital of Rondonia state, the mighty Madeira River reached its lowest level since official records began in 1998. And in the state capital of Acre, Rio Branco, the Acre River—which runs through the city — reached its lowest level since measurements began in 1967, according to the Brazilian Geological Service.
So far, the drought in the Amazon River is not that extreme, although Coari, a city near Tefe, is experiencing its sixth worst drought since records began in 1975.
“As climate change causes extreme weather events, significant droughts in the Amazon are likely to be a sign of those changes,” Alejandro Duarte, a climate researcher at the Federal University of Acre, told the HPD. “This could be an irreversible trend in the coming years.”
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