Persistent drought drops Amazon River level to a 121-year low, leaving delivery boats grounded

Oct 16, 2023 | 0 comments

Only small boats can navigate large portions of the upper Amazon River.

By Bruno Kelly and Jake Spring

The Amazon River fell to its lowest level in over a century on Monday at the heart of the Brazilian rainforest as a record drought upends the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and damages the jungle ecosystem.

Rapidly drying tributaries to the mighty Amazon have left boats stranded, cutting off food and water supplies to remote villages, while high water temperatures are suspected of killing more than 100 endangered river dolphins.

A boy walks on a dry area of the Igarape do Taruma stream which flows into the Rio Negro river, as the water level at a major river port in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest hit its lowest point in at least 121 years on Monday, in Manaus, Brazil.

The port of Manaus, the region’s most populous city, at the meeting of the Rio Negro and the Amazon River, recorded 13.59 meters (44.6 ft) of water on Monday compared to 17.60 a year ago, according to its website. That is the lowest level since records began in 1902, passing a previous all-time low set in 2010.

After months without rain, rainforest villager Pedro Mendonca was relieved when a Brazilian NGO delivered supplies to his riverside community near Manaus late last week.

“We have gone three months without rain here in our community,” said Mendonca, who lives in Santa Helena do Ingles, west of Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state. “It is much hotter than past droughts.”

Some areas of the Amazon have seen the least rain from July to September since 1980, according to the Brazilian government disaster alert center, Cemaden.

Brazil’s Science Ministry blames the drought on this year’s onset of the El Nino climate phenomenon, which is driving extreme weather patterns globally. In a statement earlier this month, the ministry said it expects the drought will last until at least December, when El Nino’s effects are forecast to peak.

The drought has affected 481,000 people as of Monday, according to the civil defense agency in the state of Amazonas, where Manaus is located.

Late last week, workers from Brazilian NGO Fundacao Amazonia Sustentavel (FAS) fanned out across the parched region near Manaus to deliver food and supplies to vulnerable villages. The drought has threatened their access to food, drinking water and medicines, which are usually transported by river.

Nelson Mendonca, a community leader in Santa Helena do Ingles, said some areas are still reachable by canoe, but many boats have not been able to bring supplies along the river, so most goods are arriving by tractors or on foot.
“It’s not very good for us, because we’re practically isolated,” he said.

Luciana Valentin, who also lives in Santa Helena do Ingles, said she is concerned about the cleanliness of the local water supply after the drought reduced water levels.

“Our children are getting diarrhea, vomiting, and often having fever because of the water,” she said.
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Credit: Reuters

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