the Parana in South America sounds the climate alarm – .

the Parana in South America sounds the climate alarm – .

  • Parana retreated to its lowest level in 77 years
  • The river is vital for commercial navigation and fishing
  • Cereal transport boomed in Argentina and Paraguay

CHARIGUE, Argentina, October 27 (Reuters) – Gustavo Alcides Diaz, an Argentinian fisherman and hunter from a riverine island community, is at home on the water. The Parana River once covered the banks near his wooden stilt house which he could reach by boat. The fish gave him food and income. He purified the water of the river to drink it.

Today, the 40-year-old looks at a trickle of muddy water.

The Parana, South America’s second largest river behind the Amazon, has receded this year to its lowest level since its lowest level in 1944, hit by cyclical droughts and declining rainfall upstream in Brazil. Climate change is only worsening these trends.

(Reuters chart on the Parana River: Click to view in English or Spanish)

The decline of the waterway, which connects a large part of the continent, has harmed river communities like Diaz’s, resulted in the transport of grain to Argentina and Paraguay, and contributed to an increase in forest fires, damaging ecosystems wetlands.

“It’s historic. I’ve never seen it this low in my life, ”said Diaz at his home in Charigue, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) upstream from Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, lamenting the impact on fish stocks and freshwater. . “When everything dries up, the water rots. “

The Parana Crisis is one of the multitude of woes occurring around the world associated with global climate change linked to the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. World leaders are expected to meet at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, which begins October 31 in Glasgow, Scotland, amid warnings from a United Nations panel on climate-related disruption for decades, if not centuries, to come.

The river, originating in southern Brazil, winds for approximately 4,880 kilometers (3,030 miles) through Paraguay and Argentina before reaching the Atlantic Ocean. It is a vital waterway for commercial shipping and fishing, provides drinking water to millions of people, powers hydroelectric power stations and supports rich biodiversity.

Billions of dollars of agricultural products such as soybeans, corn and wheat are transported to ports in Parana for shipment around the world. It carries around 80% of Argentina’s agricultural exports, although some shippers are now looking to move goods overland due to falling water levels.

The flow of Parana at times this year has fallen to just over half of the normal amount. Satellite imagery clearly shows how far the river has receded.

The dry weather driving Parana’s decline is due in part to a long-term natural cycle of weather conditions that is worsened by global warming, burning wetlands, and the construction of hydroelectric dams – all coinciding with the La Nina’s natural ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that reduces precipitation levels, said agronomist and climatologist Eduardo Sierra.

The larger dry cycle could last for decades, forcing a readjustment for communities, farmers and shippers, Sierra added.

“It’s an event that happens twice a century,” said Sierra, an adviser to the Buenos Aires grain exchange, referring to the river’s decline.

“We also have a human cause which is global warming, which accentuates all the variations in the climate,” Sierra added, noting that human activity, including the construction of dams, “also has an impact on the capacity of the river. to self-regulate ”.


Parana – which means “like the sea” in the Tupi-Guarani language spoken by local indigenous peoples, due to its vastness – is formed by the convergence of two rivers in Brazil, the Rio Grande and the Paranaiba. The Parana fills with water in Brazilian states including Goias, Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo, and Mato Grosso do Sul, before its long journey to the Plate River estuary in Buenos Aires.

These upstream areas have experienced a steady decline in rainfall over the past 10 years, according to a Reuters analysis of Refinitiv weather data spanning the past three decades.

The analysis showed that the combined average precipitation in these four Brazilian states fell to the lowest level since at least the early 1990s. Precipitation levels during this period halved, with the trend increasing. accelerated over the past decade.

“This past year will be set apart from anything else in the past, however you measure it,” said Isaac Hankes, senior weather research analyst at Refinitiv.

Nancy Gomez, member of the indigenous Mby’a Guarani community, who lives by hunting and fishing on the Parana River, washes her clothes, next to her sister Nancy Gomez, at the Parque Nacional Moises Bertoni, in the town of Presidente Franco, Paraguay October 13, 2021. Photo taken October 13, 2021. REUTERS / Cesar Olmedo

This sustained drop in precipitation has a direct impact on the level of the Parana thousands of kilometers (miles) downstream from the river in Argentina and Paraguay, where huge ships and barges rely on deep river channels to carry large cargoes. agricultural.

Falling river levels hamper the transport of these cargoes, as ships cannot be fully loaded, as they fear that a deeper draft – the distance between the waterline and the bottom of the ship – due to the extra weight does not cause them to run aground.

The average river depth over the past two years at Argentina’s inland grain port of Rosario is the second lowest on record, behind a historic drought in 1944. Measuring sticks dot the river at key points and provide gauges of depth related to a historic “zero” – instead of the river bed – fell into negative territory.

Guillermo Wade, director of the Argentine Chamber of Ports and Maritime Activities, said the lower tier means ships are reducing grain shipments by around 20% compared to normal volumes. Ships need to reduce 1,600 to 2,175 tonnes of cargo to save one foot of draft, Wade added. The ships leave Rosario with an average draft of about 9.1 meters (30 feet) against 10.4 meters (34 feet) normal, Wade said.

“In more than 40 years in this position, I have never seen it reach 33 centimeters (13 inches) below zero. I had never seen this, ”Wade said.

Low river levels have also forced exporters to take smaller loads in freighters upstream and then add cargo in deepwater ports downstream of the river, increasing logistics costs. Argentina lost about $ 620 million in soybean meal and soybean oil exports alone due to transportation problems caused by falling rivers, according to the Rosario grain exchange.

“With this drop, we are losing cargo,” Wade said. “Maybe next time instead of coming for this little moment here, the boats will go straight to Brazil and we will lose. “


In the wetlands around Argentina’s river delta, falling water levels have contributed to an increase in forest fires, with people in riverine island communities losing their homes and livestock.

“When the river only rises 10 centimeters (4 inches) here, they party,” said Javier Herenu, 53, a local teacher near Charigue whose boat trip from his home to school was replaced by a long walk in a dry river bed.

“The economic impact is gigantic,” said Carlos Balletbo, senior official at regional shipper Atria, in his office near the tri-border area where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet and where the Iguazu river meets. joined the Parana.

The rivers of Paraguay carry 96% of the landlocked country’s exports.

Atria has approximately 600 barges. Balletbo said low water levels crippled Atria’s operations carrying oil and soybean meal. Instead, goods are routed overland to the Brazilian port of Paranagua and to the granary ports on the outskirts of Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay.

Ships leave Paraguay with only half of their cargo capacity to reach the ports of Rosario and Rio de la Plata, tripling journey times and generating additional costs, Balletbo said.

“Navigation has been stopped. We had hardly any work, ”added Roque Gomez, a 42-year-old shipyard worker near the mayor of Otano, on the Paraguayan shores of Parana. “We try to keep the staff and survive this. “

Weather experts said Parana’s decline could last at least until next year. The October rains gave a bit of a breather, but the longer-term forecast is not encouraging, with only average or below average water levels forecast through 2022.

“We need a period of rapid recharge of the river,” said Lucas Chamorro, head of hydrology at the Yacyreta hydroelectric plant, adding that human activities such as cattle ranching, burning and soybean cultivation have an impact on the larger Pantanal wetland as well as on the Amazon.

Dionicio Gaona, a fish seller in Santa Rita, a town in Paraguay’s Alto Parana department about 340 kilometers (210 miles) east of the capital Asuncion, said the decline of the river had forced him to to change jobs to meet the needs of his family.

“It was difficult because there were so few fish,” Gaona said. “I had to work as a bricklayer just to make ends meet.

Reporting by Lucila Sigal in Charigue, Argentina, and Daniela Desantis in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay; Additional reports by Maximilian Heath; Editing by Will Dunham and Adam Jourdan

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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