Extreme weather has long been predicted by scientists to create disaster in the future. But in South America, where devastating landslides in Brazil, wildfires in Argentine wetlands, and severe floods in the Amazon have wrecked harvests in the last month, that future is now here.
On Feb. 15, the city of Petropolis, situated in the wooded foothills above Rio de Janeiro, experienced almost 10 inches of rain in only three hours — the most ever recorded in a single day since records began in 1932. More than 200 individuals were killed in the landslides that followed, and almost 1,000 more were displaced.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a study on Monday that backs up what many people on the ground are seeing with their own eyes. Extreme weather phenomena such as El Nino and La Nina, the natural heating and cooling of portions of the Pacific that affect weather patterns throughout the world, are becoming more intense and frequent as a result of global warming. According to the paper, these catastrophes have grown increasingly difficult to foresee, resulting in more damage.
According to the paper, “climate change is anticipated to turn current threats in the region into severe main concerns.”
Until 2020, Argentina’s Ibera Wetlands, one of the world’s largest such ecosystems, had lots of water, marshes, stagnant lakes, and lagoons. However, the Parana River was severely drained by a historic drought, and its levels are at their lowest level since 1944. It has been the scene of roaring flames since January.
And last week, the overflow of two rivers in Brazil’s Amazon jungle flooded 70 percent of the isolated community of Jordao. Thousands of people’s lives have been broken in the region, including 32 Indigenous villages.
With 81 percent of its inhabitants living in cities, Central and South America is the world’s second most urbanized area after North America. Experts believe trees are critical in this setting for stabilizing local temperatures and assisting the globe in meeting the lofty temperature objectives established by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
According to Carlos Nobre, a notable Brazilian climate scientist who has researched the ecosystem for decades, the Amazon rainforest stores between 150 and 200 billion tonnes of carbon in the flora and soil.
In a phone conversation with The Associated Press, Nobre said, “It’s a tremendous reservoir.” “If the forest is lost, a significant amount of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, is released into the atmosphere. The preservation of the forest is critical.”
However, most governments in the region have ignored the IPCC’s warnings and have allowed the damage to continue. Many South American politicians have kept their mouths shut when it comes to illicit logging and mining in vulnerable areas. Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president, has gone even farther, openly supporting it with his comments and by undermining environmental agencies and regulations.
Even in Colombia, where President Iván Duque has worked to curb illicit logging, a recent surge in forest fires prompted more than 150 foreign academics and activists to write a letter to the administration last week urging it to be more active.
Indeed, local prosecutors and police have stated that the region is becoming increasingly reliant on environmental activists, either to avoid deforestation, which would result in dramatic climate change, or to cope with the effects of environmental deterioration.
Alejandra Boloqui, 54, runs a private nature reserve in Argentina’s Ibera Wetlands and has been assisting firemen in their desperate combat. Last week, she captured on her phone a picture that made her cry: a dozen alligators fleeing the flames and marching down a dirt road in search of water.
“I sobbed when I first started recording them.” “I felt like they were saying to me, ‘I’ve been left without a home,'” Boloqui told the Associated Press. “Seeing so many alligators moving together during the day drew my attention….” They’re sluggish reptiles who prefer to travel at night to avoid the heat.”
They took shelter, along with many other creatures, in a nearby lagoon that had dried up owing to a lack of rain and has now been artificially supplied using solar water pumps.
The fires were caused, according to local officials, by the burning of meadows for cow grazing, which has been outlawed since December. Droughts, according to IPCC experts, set the framework for fast-spreading wildfires.
Due to the grid’s reliance on hydroelectric plants, Brazil’s south and southeast areas had their worst droughts in nine decades last year, creating the possibility of future power rationing. Simultaneously, rivers in Manaus, the Amazon’s largest city, surged to unprecedented levels in over a century of record-keeping, flooding streets and homes and impacting 450,000 people in the region.
With the majority of the Amazonian city of Jordao submerged, Indigenous leader and forest guard Josias Kaxinawá is striving to provide whatever assistance he can to dozens of towns. Using his little boat with an outboard engine, he labored all day Wednesday rescuing people and their goods.
During the rainy season, the Jordao and Tarauaca rivers combine, something Kaxinawá and his neighbors didn’t expect for several weeks. But, unlike last year, this year’s showers hit not just too early, but also viciously, he told the Associated Press.
“We are in the midst of our darkest hour. Floods, rains, and strong winds are all possible outcomes. We are facing greater issues as a result of climate change. We’re losing a lot of property, boats, appliances, and every crop we had last year,” Kaxinawá said over the phone from Jordao, adding that his neighborhood had never seen so much rain. “We’re concerned about the future,” he explained.
He went on to say that the agricultural productivity of the little city has been “basically devastated.”
This is consistent with the IPCC assessment, which states that changes in precipitation timing and amplitude, as well as high temperatures, are affecting agricultural productivity in Central and South America.
“Impacts on rural livelihoods and food security are expected to intensify, especially for small and medium-sized farmers and Indigenous Peoples in the highlands,” the research stated.
According to the Acre state administration, at least 76 people have lost their houses in Jordao and the surrounding areas, the majority of them are Indigenous and are currently staying in a local shelter. Mayor Naudo Ribeiro, on the other hand, conceded that the number was underestimated.
“This happened too quickly; there’s no way to prepare for anything like this,” Ribeiro said to local media.
Just days earlier, Mayor Rubens Bomtempo of Petropolis, the Brazilian city destroyed by landslides last week, made a similar statement to media more than 3,400 kilometers (2,100 miles) distant.
“This was really unexpected,” Bomtempo added. “No one could have predicted such much rain.”