The Amazon rivers have been plummeting to their lowest levels in 121 years due to an intensifying drought that has brought the world’s largest tropical forest to its knees. The water levels on the world’s biggest river system dropped to a record low of 3.3 meters (11 feet) last month, a 34-year low, according to the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The low levels have caused significant damage to river banks, lowered aquatic life and hindered livelihoods for fishermen and local communities.
The drought is the result of a combination of factors including deforestation, global warming and the El Niño weather pattern. Deforestation has caused a decrease in the evapotranspiration of the Amazon basin, which in turn has led to a decrease in the amount of water available to flow into the river. The extreme heatwave and lack of rainfall due to El Niño has made the situation worse. Global warming has also been a factor, with average temperatures in the Amazon basin increasing steadily over the past decade.
The drought is devastating because it affects not only local communities, but the entire ecosystem of the Amazon. The lack of water has caused massive fish die-offs, with some fishermen reporting losses of up to 50% of their catches. Low water levels have also caused massive damage to vegetation along the rivers, with some areas completely denuded. The lack of water also affects the livelihoods of many species of animals, with some species like the Amazon River dolphin struggling to survive.
In response to the crisis, the Brazilian government has declared a state of emergency in some of the worst affected river basins. The government has allocated 500 million reais ($125 million) to support the efforts of state governments, municipalities, and civil society organizations to address the drought. Additionally, other countries in the Amazon basin, including Peru and Ecuador, have also stepped up to help.
Though the situation is dire, there is still hope. Intense rain and floods are expected in the region this month, potentially alleviating the drought and providing the river system with desperately needed water. Additionally, Amazon conservation and reforestation efforts could help counteract some of the damage caused by the drought.