Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem


Birds fly over a man taking photos of the exposed bed of the Old Parana River, a tributary of the Parana River during a drought in Rosario, Argentina on Thursday, July 29, 2021. The Parana River Basin and its associated aquifers provide clean drinking water to shut down 40 million people in South America, and environmentalists say declining river water levels are due to climate change, decreased rainfall, deforestation and progress of agriculture. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

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.

  • Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem

    Children play on the exposed banks of the Parana River in a fishing village on Espinillo Island across the Rosario River in Argentina on Thursday, July 29, 2021. The National Institute of Argentina’s water has defined the drop in water levels as the worst since 1994, saying that in September water levels in several provinces will reach their lowest level on record. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

  • Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem

    A section of the Rosario River bank is eroded just outside a high school, triggered by a drought in Rosario, Argentina on Friday, July 30, 2021. The Parana River Basin and its associated aquifers provide drinking water for nearly 40 people millions of people in South America, and environmentalists say declining river water levels are due to climate change, decreased rainfall, deforestation and the advancing agricultural frontiers. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

  • Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem

    Jetties are displayed on the dry bed of the Old Parana River, a tributary of the Parana River during a drought in Rosario, Argentina on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Argentina’s National Water Institute has defined the drop in river water levels as the worst since 1994, saying that in September water levels in several provinces will hit their lowest level. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

  • Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem

    Marcelino Carrizo, 50, rests outside his home in a fishing village on Espinillo Island, an island in the Parana River opposite Rosario, Argentina, on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Falling water levels of the Parana River has affected the breeding of cattle near its banks, commercial fishing, transportation and the supply of drinking water to the region. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

  • Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem

    A fishing net hangs to dry in a fishing village on Espinillo Island, across the Parana River from Rosario, Argentina on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Falling water levels in the Parana River has affected the breeding of cattle near its banks, commercial fishing, transportation and the supply of drinking water to the region. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

  • Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem

    Fisherman Alberto Albil, 60, nets a “sabalo” fish in the Parana River near Rosario, Argentina on Thursday, July 29, 2021, amid a persistent drought. Falling water levels in the Parana River have affected cattle ranching near its banks, commercial fishing, transportation, and the area’s drinking water supply. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

  • Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem

    A boat was stranded on the bed of a dried up stream in a fishing village on Espinillo Island, an island in the Parana River opposite Rosario, Argentina, on Thursday, July 29, 2021. Falling levels of Parana river water worries both environmentalists and authorities as it hinders river traffic, creates a shortage of drinking water and affects productivity in the northeast of the country crossed by the river. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

  • Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem

    People who live in the fishing village of Espinillo Island are crossing the delta of the ancient Parana River with their goods now that boats can no longer reach their community and others, amid a drought that has transformed the river into a sandbank, on the other side of the river from Rosario, Argentina, Thursday July 29, 2021. The drop in water levels in the Parana river worries both environmentalists and the authorities because it hinders traffic fluvial, creates a shortage of drinking water and affects productivity in the northeast of the country crossed by the river. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

  • Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem

    A grain ship is anchored in the middle of the Parana River as it waits its turn to enter the port of Rosario, Argentina on Thursday, July 29, 2021. The ports along the Parana River are the world’s largest grain exporters and the ships had to reduce their cargo capacity in order to navigate the lower water levels of the river. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

  • Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem

    The huge Rosario-Victoria Bridge crosses the Parana River near Rosario, Argentina on Thursday, July 29, 2021, in the midst of a drought. Argentina’s National Water Institute has defined the drop in river water levels as the worst since 1994, saying that in September water levels in several provinces will reach their lowest level ever. checked in. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

  • Drought hits South American river, threatening vast ecosystem

    The pillars of the enormous Rosario-Victoria Bridge are exposed during a drought affecting the Parana River near Rosario, Argentina on Thursday, July 29, 2021. In the port city of Santa Fe, the river recorded a level of 22 centimeters, the lowest in 50 years. Credit: AP Photo / Victor Caivano

“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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