Brazil: Dramatic drought in the Amazon
The Amazon rainforest is experiencing a severe drought: River levels dropped significantly, fish are dying and the human population is suffering as well. The weather phenomenon El Nino and climate change are to blame.
Boats can still travel on this section of the Amazon near Manacapuru, but its level is dangerously low. The Amazon region is experiencing a record drought already affecting 100,000 people. The Brazilian government is setting up a task force to help those who rely on the rivers as transport routes for food and other essentials.
'Very worrying' situation
Rivers are the region's main transportation routes, and the drought has already disrupted some of them. "The situation is very worrying," Brazil's Environment Minister Marina Silva told Reuters news agency. Food and water shortages loom. The government is providing 140 million reals (€26.3 million) for dredging navigation channels and ports to keep the rivers navigable.
Cut off from the outside world
People in the Brazilian states of Amazonas and Acre, already cut off from the outside world, are now to be supplied with water, food and medicine by the air force. By the end of the year, half a million people could be affected by the drought, authorities fear ― just like the inhabitants of these stranded houseboats that normally float on the Rio Negro.
Lake of dead fish
Fisherman Paulo Monteiro da Cruz navigates his boat through a sea of dead fish in Lake Piranha. The livelihood of many fishermen here is acutely threatened. The low water levels and exceptionally high water temperatures have triggered a mass die-off in the region's rivers and lakes.
Livelihoods at risk
Thousands of dead fish pile up on the shore of this headland. The mass die-off is a disaster for nature and the people: Fishing, the livelihood for many communities along the rivers in the Amazon, has had to be largely halted. In addition, the dead fish floating on the surface of the rivers contaminate the drinking water.
Boats lie aground in the port of Manaus, the biggest city in the Brazilian Amazon region. According to the port authority's website, the water level has dropped by an average of 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) per day since mid-September. On Wednesday, it was at a depth of 16.4 meters (53.8 feet), about six meters shallower than on the same day last year.
Up in flames
Drought and heat are not only affecting the rivers: The region is also suffering from numerous forest fires, and in some cases, the flames are also threatening settlements. In mid-September, the state of Amazonas declared a state of environmental emergency. Currently, 15 municipalities are in a state of emergency and 40 others in a state of alert, according to the civil defense authority.
Rainforest without rain
In Iranduda, the otherwise mighty Rio Negro is currently little more than a trickle. The drought in the north and the floods in southern Brazil are triggered by the El Nino weather phenomenon, which warms the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean. Weather experts say the effects have been more severe than usual this year.
"We are experiencing a coincidence of two phenomena: one natural, El Nino, and one man-made, global warming," Environment Minister Silva told Reuters. This combination, she said, has led to an unprecedented drought in the Amazon, the likes of which Brazil will probably see more of in the future. Climate change is making droughts more frequent and longer.