Tuesday, October 26, 2010

DROUGHT IN AMAZÔNIA




The Rio Negro, which joins together with the Rio Solimões to form the Amazon River at Manaus, has reached the lowest level in its 102 year recorded history. Shipping along it to the export port and markets of Manaus has stopped. Yes, "There's trouble in River City."

Here is the full story at NPR and at treehugger. Bottom line: the dangerous interactions between the warming of ocean waters, deforestation, interior development and increased fires appears to be changing the climate across much of the Amazon Basin.

Here in Acre, and in nearby Bolivia and Peru, the rains have started again and the rivers are slowly rising but the rubber tappers and nut gatherers are reporting warming trends that have made them very concerned. The ironic fact is, despite decreases in the rate of deforestation, the number of fires has been increasing which suggests that areas of regrowth (after past fires) and scrub are burning and the forest simply is not as moist and resilient as it used to be.

This news arrives as the Brazilian government is gearing up to begin work on the much-disputed Belo Monte hydro project which is predicted to run at extremely low efficiency during the dry season which is now predicted to become longer and plagued more frequently by severe drought.

Evidently, the dam builders have not built global warming precipitation projections into their bids because there is no Federal requirement that they do so. In the current election campaign for President of Brazil, both leading candidates Dilma Rouseff and José Serra have been promising massive infrastructure development programs without being willing to discuss the sustainability issues for Amazônia. This is the reason that Marina Silva (who garnered 20 million votes in the first round) and the Green Party have (controversially) refused to endorse either candidate in the final round (election day is 31 October).

About 70% of Brazil's energy is hydro-dependent. When I asked an expert what might be done if the prolonged drought scenario manifests as the new climate, he said, "I guess they'll have to build more dams." At this point 146 hydro projects are planned across the full Amazon, 68 of them in Brazil. Here's a new website with an interactive map of the projects.

In pretty realistic terms, it can be said that the future of Amazônia is being determined by the policies and programs now being set in concrete. And this is yet another reason to relate to and support the coalition of NGOs and indigenous peoples who are determined to stand against the Belo Monte dam which has become the iconic struggle over mega-projects in Amazônia. Here's how you can help.

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