Amazon Basin experiencing extreme drought19 Oct 2005
Rio Branco, Brazil – The government of Brazil has declared a state of emergency in the Amazon as a result of unusual drought conditions, which some believe are being caused by unusually high temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean.
Studies by the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, a WWF-partner organization, suggest that the warming of the Atlantic near the Africa coast and the Gulf of Mexico may have altered the circulation pattern of the air currents and displaced the dry air masses to the Amazon Region.
“Freshwater, forest, species and local people are being heavily impacted by this drought,” said Urbano Lopes da Silva Junior, WWF-Brazil’s conservation officer based in Rio Branco.
“For the Amazonian population, especially the poor, the main problems are the shortage and even lack of potable water for their own consumption.”
The state of emergency extends over 61 municipalities of Brazil’s Amazonas State, affecting many towns and cities downstream of the Amazon River.
One of the main threats of the drought is reduced freshwater habitat for many non-migratory fish species, such as the pirarucu, the largest freshwater fish in the world and already a threatened species due to overfishing and predatory fishing practices. With the significant decrease in the water level in the Amazon River and its 1,000 tributaries, other aquatic species are also becoming more vulnerable.
The Brazilian Amazon is home to one-third of all the species in the world. Thousands of plant species, over one million insect species, more than 700 fish species, 1,000 bird species and over 300 mammal species — not including those unknown to science — are found within the Amazon rainforest.
In the dryer, upland forest, the main environmental concern regarding the drought is the threat of fire.
“Without water in the soil, the forest becomes a powder barrel,” added Lopes da Silva.
The threats of logging, land clearing and water pollution may also have an impact on the drought situation.
Although the Brazilian government launched the Amazon Protected Areas Programme (ARPA) in 2002, which sets aside almost 16 million hectares of land for conservation and sustainable use, WWF believes that much more needs to be done to save the world's most important rainforest.
Recent satellite data released by Brazil’s National Space Sciences Institute (INPE) revealed that deforestation in the Amazon from August 2003 to August 2004 significantly increased from the year before, when more than 23,000 square kilometres of Amazon forest disappeared. According to government estimates, by 2020 the Amazon forest will have lost 25 per cent of its original area.