On Monday (16/10), the day the Rio Negro reached its lowest level in 120 years of measurement in Manaus, part of the residents of São Gabriel da Cachoeira (AM) woke up without electricity. And the dry season is just beginning in the region.
São Gabriel da Cachoeira is the third most indigenous city in the country, and energy rationing is already affecting essential services for the population. This Tuesday morning (17), a poster in front of the Basic Health Unit (UBS) in the Praia neighborhood informed about the change in opening hours due to rationing. Schools had to change their schedules due to lack of energy supply and excessive heat.
The city is at risk of being left without energy supply. On the night of October 18, authorities met at the city forum to discuss the issue. It was reported that the city has fuel for another 4 days, that is, until October 22nd, maintaining rationing. The ferry with fuel is only scheduled to arrive on the 23rd, but with the river level low, the trip could take longer.
With the arrival of the ferry, the situation may normalize for a few days, however the scenario of uncertainty regarding fuel supplies continues, as the dry period lasts until the beginning of 2024, which could worsen navigability conditions.
São Gabriel is supplied by a thermoelectric plant. Normally, 44 thousand liters of diesel are used per day to generate 8 megawatts. With rationing, 4,2 megawatts/day are being generated, using approximately 25 thousand liters of diesel/day. Temporary cuts by region of the city have been intensifying.
In a note, Amazonas Energia explained that VP Flexgen, an independent energy producer responsible for generating the input in the municipality, reported on Sunday (15) about the difficulty in receiving fuel to supply the thermoelectric plant. “VP Flexgen also communicated that it adopted the necessary measures with the fuel supplier, but that the worsening of the effects of the drought severely affected operations due to the difficulties in navigation and logistics of transport across the Rio Negro”, says the report.
Residents argue that the company is able to plan to avoid rationing. The population of São Gabriel da Cachoeira also faces problems with water supply, difficulty finding certain goods, rising prices, problems with the river's navigability and high temperatures. Indigenous people still report loss of fields, hot soil and the feeling of boiling water in the river.
“We are used to river floods and droughts, but now everything is different. Even the water changed, the heat changed. Even the sun has changed a lot, the heat is different from before. No one regulates what will happen anymore,” said indigenous Cecília da Silva, from the Tukano people, who has been trading on the banks of the Rio Negro since the 1980s, in the Porto Queiroz Galvão region, from where she monitors climate changes.
On Tuesday morning, at one of the gas stations in Porto Queiroz Galvão, it was possible to see several cores (drums) left there by consumers. The fuel had been sold, but it was not possible to deliver the product due to a lack of energy.
With the boat stopped next to the floating station, the indigenous Tarcísio Saldanha, Tariano people, was waiting to refuel and continue the journey to Urubuquara, in the district of Iauaretê, Upper Rio Uaupés. “In my region, December and January are dry, dry. This year looks like it will be even drier. There’s still a lot of summer left,” he says.
To get to Urubuquara, he needs to pass through Cachoeira de Ipanoré. This section, due to the rapids, is not navigable: it is necessary to remove the boat from the water and transport it in a truck along a stretch of road to another part of the river. During drought, this process is made difficult, as a ravine appears between the river and the road.
Known as Joaquim 90, merchant Joaquim Henrique Uchôa sells ice on his ferry, in Porto Queiroz Galvão. But he is unable to find the product to deliver to customers. “Without energy, there is no manufacturing,” he explains.
It maintains a ferry that runs between São Gabriel da Cachoeira and Iauaretê District. The vessel made the outward journey, but it is not known whether it will be able to return, which depends on navigation conditions. To measure the river level, he improvised a meter. “It rained a little, but the river is still”, comments Joaquim.
The few rains that are hitting the region are not enough to change the river level, according to residents' observations. The data shows that the Rio Negro continues to dry up. In São Gabriel da Cachoeira, the level dropped from 602 cm to 508 cm between October 5th and 13th, according to a bulletin released on October 16th (check the full bulletin below).
On the city's main waterfront, the white sand beach extends over the river, with many exposed rocks. One of the markers for the drought is the crossing to Ilha da Juíza. In 2017, during the drought, people were able to cross to the island by passing through the rocks. Now, it is almost possible to follow this same path. Furthermore, to access the city from the main shore, the indigenous people need to drag the boat over a sand channel that has formed in the river.
Trader Marilene Ferreira de Oliveira, from the Baré people, lives at the end of the waterfront avenue, in a section that tends to flood during floods. In front of her house and her grocery store, she and her husband built a suspended structure so they could work even when the river was full. But they are having to deal with the drought and the lack of some goods.
“There is a shortage of chicken and meat. Our supplier is only selling up to two bales of soda. Everything is at a high price, rice, pasta, everything has gone up,” she says.
In São Gabriel da Cachoeira – which can only be reached by boat or plane – the supply of goods is mainly done by ferry. But large vessels are unable to disembark at the Port of Camanaus, from where products are transported in trucks to the commercial center.
The ferries have been parked in a section below the port, and small boats are used to fetch supplies, which makes logistics and, consequently, products more expensive. Rice, pasta and even water have gone up in price. A 20-liter gallon, which was sold for R$12, is now priced between R$16 and R$20. On Sunday, the ferry managed to reach Camanaus.
In addition to energy and supply problems, residents also face a lack of water. The Municipal Department of Works, Transport and Urban Services (Semob) released a statement asking people to save water and announced that supply may be interrupted due to the drought.
The report also warns that the problem could affect water taps, due to the lowering of the water table in artesian wells. In São Gabriel da Cachoeira, many people use the water taps spread across some parts of the municipality.
On social media, indigenous people warn about the impacts of drought
Leader of Santa Maria, in the district of Iauaretê, Edvaldo de Jesus recorded a video asking for the support of public bodies, as the water well, which is used to supply the community, has dried up. In the community of Buia Igarapé, in the Içana River region, professor Cleto Hermes, from the Baniwa people, also recorded images showing the fire advancing in areas of already planted fields.
Arivaldo Matias, from the Baré people, resident of the Yamado community, reported that due to the high temperatures there is no way to work the fields. Furthermore, he reports that the land is hot, damaging maniva plantations and pepper trees.
Fisherman Antônio Carlos Azevedo, Baré, says that there are also impacts on fish. “It’s harder to fish, the fish are disappearing. The water is very hot. With the rain that came, it cooled down a little”, he reports.
The Yanomami leader José Mário Góes released a video on Thursday (12), showing a fire in the Serra do Opota, considered sacred and located in the community of Maturacá, in the Yanomami Territory in Amazonas.
He reports that lightning struck the mountain and caused the fire, which was put out in the early hours of Saturday after rain hit the region. “We are talking to our shamans. It is urgent that water comes to wet the ground, to wet the forest. The river is increasingly drying up. We are worried,” he reported.
Atypical drought is related to the climate crisis
Data from the Western Amazon Hydrometeorological Monitoring Bulletin – Geological Survey of Brazil (CPRM) indicate that the Negro River is maintaining the descent process in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, Santa Isabel do Rio Negro and Barcelos, where the recorded levels are below the range of normality.
The Rio Negro in Manaus reached a level of 13,59 m on October 16, exceeding the low water level of 2010 (13,63 m), with daily drops of around 10 cm. On October 24, 2019, the river reached 13,63 meters. Until then, this was considered the most severe drought since measurements began in 1902.
Still according to the CPRM, in the period from September 12th to October 11th, 2023, below-average rainfall continues to predominate in the region. The cause of the drop in rainfall is the El Niño phenomenon, intensified by the impacts of the climate emergency.
“The El Niño phenomena (warming of surface waters in the Pacific Ocean) and anomalous warming of surface waters in the North Tropical Atlantic continue to act, favoring the condition of subsidence (vertical movement of air from top to bottom) over a large part of the region, inhibiting or reducing the formation of clouds and consequently a reduction in the volumes of rain observed”, says the CPRM report.