Historic drought in the Amazon rivers

The historic drought in the Amazon has affected communities in Brazil’s most indigenous state. There was no drinking water, no fish and no school meals.

What was once a river has now become a vast swampland. “I am 68 years old and have never experienced such a drought. The fish die and the water eyes are gonesaid indigenous chief Manuel Munduruku of the Kwatá-Laranjal indigenous land in Borba town (AM).

Manuel oversees 22 towns on the banks of the Canuma River, a tributary of the Madeira, about 150 kilometers south of Manaus. These waters not only provide transportation, but also provide fish, food for the community, and a source of income for many families.

But the river ison firesaid the leader and you could almost see the dry riverbed. There’s dirt everywhere. The streams also dried up. “It’s worse than the pandemic” said.

Communities are at risk due to historic drought

Amid a historic drought in the Amazon’s rivers and streams, indigenous leaders warn that communities are at risk. On the one hand, there is the lack of drinking water and food. But fuel and energy are also in short supply.

Executives interviewed by Brazilian journalists voiced their warnings about a “unsustainable development model“ in the Amazon region were ignored. Currently, it is the indigenous peoples who are suffering the most from the historic drought. They believe that this situation requires an urgent response from the authorities, but it will take time.

Is this an omen that indigenous leader Ailton Krenak made in his book “Ideas to move the world”? In the work, the author warns about the disappearance of indigenous peoples due to the actions of people who view nature as a commodity and not a part of us. As we all know, this year’s “Amazon summer” is different: the river’s water level is the lowest in a century.

Digging through the water

historic drought
From well to water tank: storage structure in Kwatá Laranjal (Photo: Personal Archive/Kwatá Laranjal Community)

Amazonas is the state with the largest indigenous population in Brazil. According to the 2022 census, 490,854 indigenous people were registered.
The relatives have to travel very long distances to get water; the quality is not very good. This has happened before, but now it’s even worse.“, he claimed. Mariazinha said he gets a lot of complaints about illnesses caused by the lack of clean water, such as diarrhea.

To access water, the people of the Munduruku people in the Kwata Laranjal indigenous land dig the wells themselves, even with their hands. “To protect ourselves from the drought and prepare food, coffee and tea, we had to dig a hole that we called cacimba. Some produce excellent water, others produce rusty water that is not drinkable.Manuel said. A well in front of his house supplies water to the city’s medical center and other neighboring houses.

But due to this historic drought “some fountains disappear“. Photos sent to Munduruk show muddy ponds.

During the interview, Manuel called on the authorities to urgently visit the cities and observe the communities. The police chief’s son, Estelio Mundurucu, a university student currently living in Manaus, wrote a letter to the state government asking for help. However, nothing arrived until the second week of November.

In São Gabriel da Cachoeira, the country’s third largest municipality with an indigenous population (93% of the population self-identifies as indigenous), the historic drought hit hardest on villages that relied on fishing and agriculture for survival. The city is located at the western end of the state, 850 km from Manaus.

The high tide heated the water very much and led to the death of the fish“said Marielton Bare, President of the Federation of Indigenous Organizations of Río Negro (Feurn). In addition to food insecurity, cases of diarrhea due to poor water quality are increasing.

historic drought
Great low tide of the Negro River in São Gabriel da Cachoeira (Photo: Ray Baniwa/Rede Wayuri)

No river, no boat

Shallow rivers also affect the transport of people and goods, which now has to be carried out in smaller boats such as Rabetas, which have a lower carrying capacity. However, according to Manuel Munduruku of TI Kwatá Laranjal, some people also had difficulty moving. This impacts foraging in the community.

The boss said: “Getting food is a sacrifice. And we couldn’t buy much (due to the size of the boat), just a little“. “Lady, here we stay isolated and no one looks at us“.

The municipal Secretariat for Indigenous Peoples of Borba told Brazilian journalists that it was studying the needs of indigenous families who had not yet received baskets of basic foodstuffs.

The Ministry of Defense, Funai and the Secretariat will form a working group to deliver the baskets to the community or community. We are still waiting for a response from the Borbinsky City Council on the delivery schedule“, says the statement.

Energy rationing

This severe event forced Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira to limit its energy consumption, which was currently only enough for 12 hours a day.

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The city’s energy is generated by thermal power plants that rely on river resources. According to the Amazonas state prosecutor’s office, the rationing was due to a lack of planning on the part of energy agencies, which did not provide enough fuel for the dry season.

In addition, the so-called “Lung ferry“Didn’t arrive on time, resulting in a power outage. The structure stores large amounts of fuel.

Marielton said rationing has also crippled schools and harmed students who have been trying to adapt to hybrid learning since the pandemic. “In normal times it is already difficult to ensure distance learning. And there is another problem with lunch: how to provide it to people during this drought? If this has never happened, imagine it now“, emphasized President Foirn.

In such a situation, Maryvelton even doubts that the Amazon government can fulfill its promise to provide the region with clean water and food.

You can even travel by plane, although only in large planes as you will need to refuel for the return flight as we are also committed to kerosene.said leader Bare.

He criticized the San Gabriel City Council’s delay in issuing an emergency ordinance until Oct. 19, saying the three branches of government (local, state and federal) had no emergency plan.

The people who end up paying are frontline communities, indigenous peoples and coastal towns” said. The city of San Gabriel and state officials were contacted but received no comment. The Department of Indigenous Peoples also did not respond.

In a statement, the Health Ministry said it had established an Indigenous Health Emergencies Committee to monitor the situation.

Through the Ministry of Indigenous Health, the department will provide logistical support, such as extending flight hour contracts to inaccessible locations and increasing fuel for locations where consumption needed to be increased. Guidance, monitoring tools and on-site personnel are also offered if necessary, in addition to basic food baskets, fire-fighting equipment, measures to restore navigability of rivers and the expectation of social benefits. In addition, through the Food Acquisition Program (PAA), there will be a transfer worth R$8.12 million for the purchase of family farm products in communities that are in a public disaster or emergency situation. The resource will allow the purchase of 1.72 thousand tons of resources for the entire Amazon region“, the note says.

us for us

historic drought
From well to water tank: storage structure in Kwatá Laranjal (Photo: Personal Archive/Kwatá Laranjal Community)

Apiam, together with the Coordination of Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon (Coiab), is trying to mobilize resources to help affected indigenous communities. In addition to the SOS campaign for indigenous peoples, organizations are developing plans to combat this historic drought.

We work with advocates and funders at Coiab to build networks of solidarity and support for Indigenous peoples affected by the climate crisis. The aim is to purchase food, water and medicine and to create a structure that allows access to the areasaid Mariazinha Bare.

He said Apiam is a member of the GT (Working Group) on Alleviating Historic Drought in the Amazon, which includes federal agencies such as MPI and Funai, as well as state governments such as the Sovereign Fund for the Land of Indigenous Peoples. Civil defense and other organizations.

Apiama has been asked to reconsider its strategy for providing humanitarian assistance to these areas. In an open letter to the Amazon government, Apiam and Coiab demand “serious, concrete, sustainable and urgent measures in the short, medium and long term“.

They didn’t listen to us, but we are resilient and insist that they stop killing us. We call on the governments of the Amazon, Brazil and the world to declare a climate emergency and take urgent action“said the letter.

El Niño and the Atlantic Ocean

Researcher Jochen Schöngarth from the National Amazon Research Institute (INPA) attributed the drought to a combination of two factors: the presence of El Niño in the Pacific this year and the unusual warming of the Positive Atlantic.

Because El Niño and the Atlantic were affected at the same time, I believe this resulted in an extension of the dry season that affected almost all of the Amazon.” said.

According to the researcher, El Niño slows river flooding and causes a phenomenon called “repiquete,” in which water levels rise and fall several times. “The Negro River in Manaus reached its lowest level on October 26th, it was somewhat full, but is now falling again. It goes through many cycles until it begins to fill with water before the next flood. However, due to current weather conditions, this process will be significantly delayed.“.

Schöngart argues that the lack of precipitation is also “related”Deforestation, forest fragmentation and forest fires“. This historic drought scenario will last until early 2024.

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