Fw: [WildlifeConservationDepartment] Brazil's Rainforest Drought Crea ting Shortage of Freshwater
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Amazon's Worst Drought Causing Serious Harm And
Thirst In The World's Freshwater Paradise
by Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO,BRAZIL (Tierram�rica) - A shortage of water in the
heart of the Brazilian Amazon, one of the world's largest sources of
freshwater, might seem unconceivable, but it is real and should serve
as a red alert to the irreversible tragedy that will unfold if
deforestation is not curbed, warn experts consulted by Tierram�rica.
Rivers and lakes nearly dry, hundreds of tons of dead fish, isolated
villages supplied with food by helicopters, boats beached in the mud
and people forced to walk kilometers to look for water are becoming a
common sight in many parts of the southwest Brazilian Amazon.
Considered the worst in 50 years, the current drought has taken an
especially heavy toll on the states of Acre and Amazonas. Local
residents are still waiting for the emergency aid promised by the
government, which has earmarked 14 million dollars for this purpose.
In Acre, the four-month dry spell has left riverbeds without water,
while fires are spreading uncontrollably through the forests because
of the lack of moisture, environmental specialist Paulo Moutinho told
Tierram�rica shortly after returning from the area.
Smoke from the forest fires has reduced visibility and forced people
to wear protective masks on the streets, added Moutinho, coordinator
of the non-governmental Amazon Environmental Research Institute.
The effects of the drought will be long-lasting. The recovery of the
area's fish stocks will take years, and fish is a main food source
for the people living in the villages along the riverbanks. The local
population will need assistance for a considerable time, because life
will not simply return to normal when the rains come back, he said.
Far from Acre, in the municipality of Caapiranga, some 200 km from
Manaus, capital of the state of Amazonas, the Great Lake of
Manacapur�, fed by the river of the same name, has dried up.
As a result, a dozen villages have been left completely isolated,
because waterways serve as "roads" in the Amazon, and boats are the
primary means of transportation.
In Caapiranga, which had a population of 9,736 inhabitants in 2004,
two thirds of them rural dwellers, municipal official Raimundo da
Silva is tending to a well that provides water for 17
families. "Three wells in town have already dried up, and mine is
running low, but it still has enough water," he said.
Everything the town needs must be brought in along the Manacapur�
River, where only two small boats can currently travel, and the
supplies are then transported in land vehicles across the 32.5 km of
the dried-out lake bed.
"There are at least 10 larger boats that are beached," Da Silva told
Tierram�rica in a telephone interview. In all his 29 years, he said,
he never even dreamed that something like this could happen.
"The government assistance is starting to arrive," he reported,
referring to the hampers of food and medicine being distributed since
last week by the Amazonas state government, with the help of the
armed forces. At least 32,000 families in the state will be
beneficiaries of the emergency aid program.
A state of emergency has been declared in the 62 municipalities in
Amazonas, primarily because of the critical shortage of
transportation and drinking water. The authorities estimate that some
197,000 people in 914 communities have been affected by the drought,
and they are now studying evacuation plans.
Some researchers attribute the drought to the fact that the
intertropical convergence zone (ICTZ), where the warm moist air
currents from the north and south come together and normally bring
heavy rains, moved farther north, as a result of the significant rise
in sea surface temperatures in the northern Atlantic.
This same phenomenon has been deemed responsible for the record-
breaking intensity of storms like Hurricane Katrina, which battered
the southeastern coast of the United States in September, and
Hurricane Wilma, which thrashed Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula last
The unusually low water levels in the rivers of the Amazon region
should serve as a lesson on the vulnerability of this ecosystem to
phenomena that reduce rainfall and are likely to become ever more
frequent and intense, Moutinho said.
U.S. scientist Thomas Lovejoy, who has been studying the Amazon for
four decades, fears deforestation could reach the point where it
breaks the balance needed to ensure the very survival of the forests,
unleashing a "vicious cycle" of irreversible destruction.
Moisture and rainfall levels are usually high in the region because
there is abundant forest cover, and vice versa. When a certain amount
of forest cover is lost, precipitation is reduced, leading in turn to
more loss of forest cover, and so on, he explained.
"Many of us believe that this could happen if deforestation surpasses
30 percent," Lovejoy told Tierram�rica.
Maintaining the current rate of deforestation in the Amazon is "a
very dangerous game," because of the high risk of "negative
synergies" with other factors, like El Ni�o (a climate phenomenon
that causes droughts in the Amazon), forest fires and climate change,
warns Lovejoy, president of the Washington-based Heinz Center for
Science, Economics and the Environment.
It would be better to stop the deforestation process long before it
reaches the breaking point, such as at 20 percent, which would also
prevent a further loss of biodiversity, he added.
The Amazon has already lost 17 percent of its forests, but what is
considered "disturbed area," including small logging operations not
captured by satellite monitoring, is actually much larger, said Eneas
Salati, former director of the state-run National Institute for
Due to climate change, air masses rise up over the Amazon region,
lose moisture and come back down hot and dry, a phenomenon that
creates deserts when it is ongoing, Salati told Tierram�rica.
"This has never happened before in the 40 years that I've been
studying the region," he said, adding that there is no record of it
taking place before.
What cannot be stated for certain is whether the sea surface
temperatures in the Atlantic have risen "naturally or as the result
of climate changes induced by human activity," he commented.
There are three forces contributing to changes in the Amazon region's
climate, said Salati, who is now the director of the state-run
Brazilian Foundation for Sustainable Development. Two of these are
the result of human activity: deforestation and global climate
change. The third is a natural phenomenon, the cyclical variations in
the Earth's rotational axis and accompanying sunspot cycles.
This combination of factors all lead in the same direction, and the
global warming process could make natural cyclical phenomena like El
Ni�o even more frequent.
El Ni�o, which results from increased water temperatures flowing
across the Pacific Ocean, led to a drought in the northern Brazilian
Amazon region in 1998. The resulting forest fires destroyed 1.3
million hectares of forest cover in Roraima state, which borders
Venezuela and Guyana.
Mario Osava is an IPS correspondent.
Copyright � 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.
NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this
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