D.he bank of the Brazilian Amazon metropolis of Manaus has been under water for days. Many people have had to leave their homes temporarily. Floods are also occurring in other areas of the Amazon state. In total, more than 450,000 people are said to be affected. This week the Rio Negro reached its highest level since measurements began in 1902. Although it is now assumed that the unusually heavy rainfall will decline, it will be weeks before the water level drops again.
The floods in the Amazon region have increased in recent years. At the same time, there were always pronounced dry seasons, for example in 2010 when the Rio Negro fell to its lowest water level since measurements began. Researchers attribute these strong fluctuations to climatic changes. The rainfalls in the Amazon are dependent on the winds that carry huge humid air masses from the Atlantic to the continent. The slight increase in water temperature in the South Atlantic as a result of climate change has thrown the weather out of balance. While more tornadoes occur in the Caribbean, rainfall has become more irregular in South America. In some regions, the rainy seasons have also shortened.
The worst drought in 40 years
Not only the Amazon is affected by these more frequent weather extremes. While Manaus is struggling with the floods, other regions of Brazil are suffering from long drought. In the center and in the south of the country, the precipitation during the past rainy season was too scarce, which is now clearly noticeable with the onset of the dry season. Not only nature and agriculture are affected, but also the energy sector.
Most of Brazil’s electricity comes from hydropower plants, some of which are among the largest in the world. But some of the reservoirs are at a threateningly low level. In the center and south of Brazil, the levels are on average at a height of a good 30 percent, which is half of the average level in the past 20 years. The Rio Paraná, where the Itaipú dam is located, is experiencing the worst drought in 40 years. In five states there is a threat of a water emergency from July to September, and the current drought is classified as extreme in around 250 communities.
Drought triggers an energy crisis
Around 70 percent of the hydropower comes from the worst affected region. In the past few days, the government had to ramp up the production of several thermal power plants in order to prevent a blackout in the national power grid. Their electricity production is not only more harmful to the environment, it is also considerably more expensive in Brazil.
As early as June, the energy crisis triggered by the drought will have a significant impact on electricity prices, which will generally increase the cost of living. In addition, there are losses in agricultural production due to the drought. Specialists do not expect a rapid recovery. Depending on the rainfall in the coming months, they no longer rule out even harder cuts such as electricity rationing. The government is already discussing the need for a crisis team.