Manaus, capital of the Amazonas state, is facing increasingly apocalyptic conditions, with extreme drought, poor air quality, and wildfires in neighboring cities. Environmental experts interviewed by Metrópoles discuss the difficulties caused by these events, exacerbated by climate change.
“In the municipality of Manaus and the metropolitan region, there are already reports of communities facing significant challenges in terms of transportation. Rivers, streams, and lakes are the most common means of transportation, especially for the low-income population here in the Amazonas,” reports Greenpeace Brazil spokesperson, Rômulo Batista.
“So, these communities already struggle to access the municipal headquarters for banking services, healthcare, education, and even for food and clean water supply, especially in the Várzea region, where there is no possibility of having a well to collect potable water,” adds Rômulo.
The Rio Negro, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River, reached its lowest recorded level in Manaus on Monday, October 16. The water level dropped to 13.59 meters, surpassing the historical record of 13.63 meters set in 2010.
According to the Amazonas Civil Defense, 50 municipalities in the state are in a state of emergency, and 10 are on alert. The extreme drought has particularly affected riverside communities, who depend on rivers for transportation as well as their livelihoods, relying on fishing and trade.
In early October, the Municipality of Manaus decided to end the school year early for schools located along the Rio Negro. According to the Municipal Education Department (Semed), teachers and students were facing difficulties in accessing the schools.
The drought affecting Manaus and several municipalities in the Amazonas state intensified due to the El Niño climate phenomenon, which started in June. However, the situation is expected to worsen in the early summer months, between December and January.
In the Amazonian capital, the drought has gained more visibility due to the smoke from wildfires, which cover entire buildings and neighborhoods.
Wildfires and air quality
Air quality remains poor in various parts of Manaus. According to the Selva platform, which measures air pollution levels from 0 to 160 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter), Manaus has exceeded 200 µg/m3.
The smoke from wildfires started to invade the capital as early as August. However, the problem worsened in early October, with a record number of hotspots in the Amazonas state.
There were 2,940 fire outbreaks detected in the state of Amazonas in the first half of October. This figure exceeds the historical average for the month, according to the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).
At the beginning of this week, Manaus received 37 millimeters of rain, bringing some relief to the population suffering from poor air quality and extreme drought.
“Although we had local showers near Manaus, which helped dissipate the smoke that was here for weeks and put out the fires around the municipality, these showers did not occur throughout the entire state. And we know that a large part of the smoke reaching Manaus comes from more distant regions, whether it’s the southern part of the Amazonas state or even from other states,” highlights the Greenpeace spokesperson.
Due to the rain recorded earlier this week, Manaus has shown a slight improvement in air quality. The highest value detected on Monday was 48 µg/m3, still considered poor but better than the previous week.
The Municipal Health Department of Manaus (Semsa) advises the population to avoid exposure to smoke, close windows at home, and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water during this period of poor air quality.
The Municipality of Manaus is conducting the Drought Operation, which provides assistance to families living near the Rio Negro. Among the actions, 6,040 food baskets and hygiene products have been distributed to 59 riverside communities, along with 60,000 liters of drinking water.
Minister of the Environment, Marina Silva (Rede), defended that wildfires in the Amazonas are not natural and announced the deployment of 289 firefighters to combat hotspots in the region.
“There is no natural fire in the Amazon. The fires are either intentionally set by criminals or the result of transforming the vegetation cover for specific uses,” explains the minister.