Dry cracks and unusual beaches, the cruelest face of the Amazon’s climate crisis

Laia Mataix Gómez

Puerto Nariño, Colombia, Oct 25 (EFE).- In Colombia’s Amazon region, there are no roads that run through the rainforest, so the many rivers that criss-cross the jungle are the only means of transportation in the region. However, with the Loretoyacu River, a tributary of the Amazon, almost dry, the inhabitants of Santa Clara have to walk two hours every four days to get drinking water.

The lack of rain is creating an unusual picture in the Colombian Amazon: dry cracks and extensive beaches that cause anxiety among the river’s inhabitants.

The journey for the families to Puerto Nariño, the nearest municipal center, is an odyssey: they have to pull their canoes along the Loretoyacu River and walk the 700 meters to the water treatment pump.

The 20-liter containers they fill for each household last about three or four days, and then they have to make the trip again.

A trip that used to take 45 minutes now takes almost two hours when the water level is so low. And not just to fetch water; if someone in the community has a medical emergency, they cannot get to the nearest hospital.

“The warming has begun to affect the ecosystem, also in terms of the mortality of various fish species”, says Gentil Gómez, the curaca – the highest authority in the community – to EFE, confirming that “the climate has not been like before, ten years ago it was not getting this warm”.

After a month without rain, a few drops fell a week ago, which will allow the families of Santa Clara to survive for about 25 days.

The threat of drought

The rivers are the highways of the Amazon and the marketplaces where the people living alongside them get a large portion of their food; they are an essential part of their lives and daily activities.

Jerónimo, 61 years old, who has been fishing all his life, remembers that when he was about 15 years old, there was a summer like this one in Lake Tarapoto, that caused a lot of fish mortality, followed by a shortage of the main food of these communities.

In Santa Clara, for example, it takes four kilos of fish a day to feed a family. The menu is fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but with this long summer, they worry that they will not be able to catch enough.

“There are not so many dead fish now, but that is a problem,” warns Jerónimo, who shares with his fellow fishermen the fear that fewer dead fish means fewer fish overall. “Where are we going to eat?” he asks, faced with the prospect of a prolonged drought.

These changes in the climate are also creating uncertainty in the communities because “the planting seasons are in question,” says Lilia Java, local coordinator of the Omacha Foundation, an organization that has been working since 1993 to protect dolphins, manatees and other species.

Visible consequences

“For us Indigenous Peoples, these lakes, rivers and streams are more than a source of food, they are where our cultural identity is born, our ancestral knowledge, our relationship with the ecosystem,” says Java.

Lake Correo, located between the Amazon and Loretoyacu rivers, has become four smaller lagoons separated from each other, cutting off connections for aquatic species after so many weeks without rain.

This drought, which could worsen with the arrival of the El Niño phenomenon, also affects all aquatic fauna, such as dolphins, ambassadors of conservation and thermometers of the health of an ecosystem. More than 150 died earlier this month in the Brazilian part of the Amazon, setting off alarms.

“Fifteen or 20 years ago, you didn’t see such extensive beaches in the Amazon as you do now,” says Silvia Vejarano, a biologist and conservation specialist with WWF Colombia.

On the boat trip from Leticia, capital of the Colombian department of Amazonas, and Puerto Nariño, these extensive riverbanks, which appeared “at least a month ago,” are visible and not normal, the expert adds.

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