Amazon Flooding?

I really cannot avoid talking about the river levels again. You see, it looks like 2009 is going to be a record year (in spite of my initial scepticism), and I’ve no doubt you’ll be hearing about it in due course. So let me give you the low down on the thing. (Incidentally, the potential flooding which is the subject of this piece is nothing to do with the internationally-reported flooding in the Northeast of Brazil, which is simply flash-flooding caused heavy rains).

As you can see from the graph, 2009 (green line) looks like matching the highest river levels ever recorded (in 1953, which is the brown line). There are some pretty wild forecasts out there (including one of well over 30 metres), but the general consensus is that levels will peak at or near the 29.69m level of 1953. This being the case, there will be a significant impact on local communities, and in fact various municipal agencies have already declared states of emergency up and down the Solimoes and the Amazon. When we were on our boat trip, we saw where the Solimoes was already overflowing its banks, sending torrents of water into and amongst the trees and – importantly – plantations along the way. In addition, several communities (presumably those built since 1953) consist of dwellings and other buildings well below the 30m mark (and in some idiotic cases, below the 29m mark). The town of Anama, where we stayed on our recent trip, is already reported to be substantially under water, and even the larger town of Anori will be fairly devastated.

The peak level is mid-June, and then the water recedes unfortunately slowly at first (less than a metre in July) and then mercifully quickly (3 to 5 metres in each of the next 2 months), but for those suffering from flooding – basically every community within a wide belt along the 2000km of the Amazon (as much as a million square kilometres, at a rough calculation), there are likely to be significant economic and social consequences to these record levels, placing a heavy burden on local, state, federal, and possibly international aid systems.

Of course river level peaks and troughs are notoriously difficult to predict (2008 was forecast to hit 29m), so there is still a chance that the models are all wrong. For the sake of all those communities, I hope so.

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