The 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 in South America are serious. Experts are alarmed. There are no signs of relaxation.
The water levels of some of the most important rivers had recently fallen to an unprecedented extent. 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 stretches across nine states and is the size of Western Europe. It is home to a breathtaking variety of plants and animals. It is estimated that a fifth of the Earth's fresh water 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 - reached its lowest level since official measurements began at the end of October near the provincial capital Manaus.
According to the Geological Survey of Brazil (SGB), the water level of the river was recently at a low of 12.70 meters - the average low this month in Manaus is 18 meters, as geoscientist André Luis Martinelli Real dos Santos from the SGB told the German press. Agency says.
Serious consequences for people and animals
The population on the river banks in particular is suffering. Many of them can usually only get around on the 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 government in the state of Amazonas declared a state of emergency for all 62 districts. Almost 600,000 people are affected. "My husband went fishing and came back without anything because there were no fish," says farmer Ana Carla Pereira in a contribution to the Greenpeace organization.
According to the news portal "G1", around 70 dead freshwater dolphins were found in the municipality of Coari in the past few 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 that it is related to the current heat and drought in the region, said the Mamirauá research institute.
Periods of drought are a natural phenomenon, says dos Santos. But what distinguishes this drought from others is the speed at which the rivers dried up, says Greenpeace expert Rômulo Batista. "A lot of places didn't have time to prepare."
Extreme weather events will intensify
The situation is currently being exacerbated by El Niño. The weather phenomenon, which occurs every few years, causes more dryness 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 rainfall, floods and floods will intensify in some regions and have significant impacts,” warns WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas.
Fires and drought threaten the Amazon
The largest rainforest in the world - home to ten percent of all species in the world - 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 achieving its declared goal of “zero deforestation”.
As recently as October, the megacity of Manaus was shrouded in thick smoke for days - a result of illegal slash-and-burn agriculture and the drought. "In the Amazon region, fires are usually linked to deforestation. Moist, 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 22,000 fires in October alone - the highest number for this month in the past 15 years.
The interaction of climate change, El Niño and increasing deforestation is leading to a negative spiral of ever-worsening droughts and fires, says Edegar de Oliveira from WWF. Greenpeace expert Batista adds: "We know that those who are suffering the most from the climate crisis are precisely those who have caused the least amount of global warming."