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Fw: [WildlifeConservationDepartment] Brazil's Rainforest Drought Crea ting Shortage of Freshwater

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    ... for the WCD Amazon s Worst Drought Causing Serious Harm And Thirst In The World s Freshwater Paradise by Mario Osava RIO DE JANEIRO,BRAZIL (Tierramérica)
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 30, 2005
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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
      Amazon Research.

      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
      material is distributed to the WCD membership without profit, for
      research and educational purposes only.

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