The Paraná River, one of South America’s main commercial waterways, has hit its lowest level in nearly 80 years due to a prolonged drought in Brazil that scientists attribute to climate change.
At risk is a vast ecosystem that includes potable water for 40 million people, the livelihoods of fishing and farming communities, and the seaworthiness of a major grain export hub.
Argentina’s National Water Institute has defined the low water level of the Paraná River, which runs through Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, as “the worst since 1944”.
“This natural asset gives us clear signs that it is not infinite,” said environmentalist Jorge Bartoli, coordinator of the organization “El Paraná No Se Toca” (The Parana should remain intact).
The low water level is due to a record drought in Brazil, where the river has its source.
The Midwestern and Southern regions of Brazil are experiencing a severe water crisis. Water reservoirs, including the giant Itaipu dam, are at their lowest level in many years and the Brazilian authorities have issued an emergency alert for five states: Minas Gerais, Goiás, Mato Grosso do Sul, São Paulo and Paraná.
Reduced water levels are part of a natural cycle, but specialists warn the scenario is more extreme due to climate change.
“These climate changes which were less frequent before are more and more frequent,” said Brazilian climatologist José Marengo.
Environmentalists say deforestation is contributing to the problem.
The Paraná Waterway and its aquifers provide fresh water to some 40 million people in countries like Brazil and Argentina.
In turn, it receives water from the Paraguay River, which has among its main sources the Pantanal region, a huge wetland located in the Mato Grosso region in southern Brazil.
The drought of the river affects the transport of goods.
Guillermo Miguel, president of the port of the city of Rosario, said ships had to reduce their tonnage by around 20% to keep moving. He said transportation costs are increasing.
In 2019, 79 million tonnes of grains, flour and oil were exported from Rosario, according to the city’s stock exchange, making it one of the largest agricultural export hubs in the world.
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