Amazon Drought Ending, Yet Sickness Looms
BELEM, Brazil The Amazon basin's worst drought in more than 40 years is ending as rainfall returns to normal, though officials fear diseases will spread as rising rivers stir up muck from stagnant pools of contaminated water.
Many river dwellers in the world's largest rainforest are hungry, having lost crops in the drought. Stocks of fish, a dietary staple, may not recover for months in smaller tributaries that dried up, killing millions of fish.
"Now grave illnesses like hepatitis will come. We need to take medicine and food to people," said Franz Marinho de Alcantara, head of the emergency response efforts in the state of Amazonas, an area as big as Alaska.
His teams will use army boats to deliver 150,000 food baskets during the next several weeks to isolated communities living in the region's labyrinth of rivers.
The planned deliveries have been doubled because even though the rains have returned, it will take weeks for the enormous hydrologic system stretching across six states to fill up after some three months of drought.
Some rivers are already rising though.
In Manaquiri, a hard hit town near the Amazon state capital of Manaus, the Rio Manaquiri, which had entirely dried up, has risen some 6 feet during the last 20 days, according to municipal officials.
That has allowed 2,600 families stranded in rural areas of Manaquiri to once again use their boats to get around.
Some scientists have blamed the drought on higher ocean temperatures stemming from global warming, which have also been linked to a string of unusually deadly hurricanes in the United States and Central America this year.
Rising air in the north Atlantic, which fuels storms, may have caused air above the Amazon to descend and prevented cloud formations and rainfall, according to some scientists.
Deforestation may also have contributed to the drought because cutting down trees cuts moisture in the air, increasing sunlight penetration onto land.
Other scientists, however, say severe droughts were normal and occurred in cycles before global warming started.
"Our evaluation is that the rains have returned to normal in most of the Amazon," said Flavio Barone, a meteorologist with the federal government's Amazon monitoring agency Sipam.