Introduction: We’re All About Water

Approximately 70% of the earth’s surface is water, with the largest bodies of water being oceans, lakes and rivers. The Brazilian Amazon holds the Amazon River, which is the second largest river in the world expanding as large as 20 miles wide.  It influences many countries of South America and is home to the rainforest which includes immense amounts of diversity in wildlife and plants, including endangered species. The Amazon River holds about one fifth of the world’s freshwater, which is used by many people in Brazil. Around 7,381,000 cubic feet of freshwater water is expelled from the Amazon River into the Atlantic Ocean every second. Approximately 76-90% of the area uses improved drinking-water sources and sanitation services, which is key to good health.  The River also features hundreds of dams, many hydroelectric, to best use this massive resource to benefit the energy needs of the civilians. rivaaaa

Even though the Amazon River brings a lot of benefits to the people of Brazil, there are also some drawbacks.  Until recently, the Amazon Rainforest had some of the highest deforestation in the world, which has hugely affected the access to and quality of water.  The rate of deforestation has decreased, but the area has lost a lot of freshwater due to this problem. Bakker’s 2010 article gives insight to the meaning of global virtual water trade. Brazil and South America are huge contributors to the success of virtual water trade internationally. [1. Bakker, from Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World’s Urban Water Crisis (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2010]

Virtual water trade is the manner in which countries import and export goods and products that were made using large quantities of water with the most efficient and effective technology. In the Amazon, deforestation is eliminating the forests for agricultural production of soy. As the Amazon’s biggest export, soy contributes to the virtual water trade. [2. Carole Dalin, Evolution of the Global Virtual Water Trade Network, 2012 http://www.pnas.org.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/content/109/16/5989/F3.expansion.html] Looking at the Brazilian Amazon’s water sources from a social perspective, the people of Brazil are heavily related to controlling their water resources.  The building of hundreds of dams leaves a great impact of the surrounding land for the people of Brazil, and many native tribes have had to relocate due to the massive construction.  These peoples often cannot find a satisfactory place to move due to their need for water for agricultural and fishing purposes.  This has often added to the poverty levels of Brazil.  In many cases, indigenous peoples have attempted to protest dam construction, but have been unsuccessful.

Many of the major threats against the native tribes of Brazil include water pollution, decrease in soil quality from deforestation and diseases. Specifically, the Yanomami tribe of northern Brazil is threatened by water pollution from illegal gold mining which contaminates the Amazon River, watershed, freshwater supply and wildlife that live in these water sources. The Yanomami people rely on fish for survival, however, due to the water pollution the fish populations are decreasing. [3. In the Jungle, 2013 http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/11/lost-tribes-brazil-amazon-map] In the southern region of Brazil, the people are experiencing negative effects from deforestation for soy plantations and cattle ranches, which results in water loss in the land. The constant and continual use of the agriculture fields contributes to soil quality degradation.

Incident threat to human water security  and biodiversity

This map shows that human water security and biodiversity threats are seen in higher concentrations near the mouths of major rivers in the world. For example, look at the southeastern coast of Brazil, South America, biodiversity and human water security threat reaches 0.8 compared to the inland levels of 0.4. Generally, these maps for human water security threat and biodiversity threat are directly related. This map does not account for technology, which demonstrates the ability to receive ample amounts of clean  water and decreases the water security threat in some wealthy nations. However, the technology causes a divide between the wealthy and poor nations. Inversely, the poorer nations of the world experience a rise in water security threat. For example, after re-evaluating the maps with technology included, the United States and Western Europe do not exhibit a large threat. [1. Global Threats to Human Water Scarcity and River Biodiversity, 2010 http://www.nature.com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/nature/journal/v467/n7315/full/nature09440.html]

Amazon River Map

Amazon River Map

The Amazon River receives runoff from Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. As the second largest river in the world, the Amazon River has the largest watershed in the world with approximately 200 tributaries. This river is responsible for discharging 20% of the fresh water on Earth into the world’s oceans. Starting in the Andes Mountains in Peru, the river runs due east, cutting through Brazil and into the Atlantic Ocean. During flood season, the river can expand as wide as 20 miles. Over 300,000 kilometers of floodplains surround the Amazon River, consisting of networks of wetlands, rivers and lakes. [2. Matt Rosenberg, Amazon River, 2009 http://geography.about.com/od/specificplacesofinterest/a/amazonriver8.htm]

The Global Virtual Water Trade, 2012

The Global Virtual Water Trade, 2012

The international trade of products made with large amounts of water, otherwise known as virtual water trade has been steadily increasing. For example, in the Brazilian Amazon, soy products make an extremely large impact on the global virtual water trade. The high demand for soy has led to the unfortunate destruction of the rainforest, which is home to over one hundred different tree species. There are six main regions that participate in the virtual water trade. South America is represented by orange. The numbers included on this map indicate the volume of virtual water traded in cubic kilometers. The pathways thus indicate the regions in which they trade. The larger map (most right) is scaled to represent the total volume of virtual water traded in 2007, which depicts the increase in the international trade. By looking at this map, it is prevalent that South America is a huge contributor to the global virtual water trade, distributing mainly to Asia and Europe. Also, it is seen in this map that South America receives little to none water from other countries. [12. Carole Dalin, Evolution of the Global Virtual Water Trade Network, 2012 http://www.pnas.org.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/content/109/16/5989/F3.expansion.html]

Biodiversity Threat and the Distance from the Ocean

These charts show the Amazon River’s reverse upstream-downstream tendencies in comparison to other large rivers throughout the world. Human caused pollution in the Amazon River is most concentrated in Peru and Bolivia near the beginning of the river; however, downstream, the water becomes progressively diluted. Thus the Amazon River is an example of reverse upstream-downstream effect from pollution. This graph also displays that polluted water in China’s Huang He River is more concentration downstream at the delta. Locations of major cities along rivers effect the manner in which pollution is added and distributed into the waterways. For example, the Nile River experiences many different types of settlements that affect the ability for growth in biodiversity.  [1. Global Threats to Human Water Scarcity and River Biodiversity, 2010 http://www.nature.com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/nature/journal/v467/n7315/full/nature09440.html]



Human dependence on Amazon water

The Amazonian people rely on the water from the Amazon River tremendously. Many of these people still live in the rainforest. Although they continue to live there, they have adopted many on western society’s ways, such as clothing, the use of pots and pans, and many other things. Almost all these native Amazonian groups get a majority of their food from the cities and use traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering as a secondary food source. These people use much of the rivers water to support their livestock, crops, produce raw materials and manufactured goods to markets which can be worldwide. The urban areas of Brazil have had problems with water management. There often is sanitation problems and difficulty dealing with waste disposal and management. This affects hygiene conditions and can lead to disease. This problem along with difficulties in water supply have has made water prices go up as well, further increasing the accessibility of water for the middle and lower classes. [13. Rhett Butler, People in the Amazon Rainforest, http://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/amazon_people.html]


Deforestation of the Amazon

In 2009, Brazil’s government set a goal to decrease deforestation by 80% by the year 2020.  From August 2012 to July 2013, Brazil’s deforestation actually increased by 28%.  As seen in the photo above, much of this deforestation is completed via the illegal burning of forest, leaving a great impact on access to and quality of water.  More than half of the Amazon’s water supply is held in its plants, so when these trees are burned, the water is lost.  Deforestation can also often lead to soil erosion, resulting in poor water quality and the inability for citizens to stay healthy. [6. Brazil Says Amazon Deforestation Rose 28% in a Year, 2013 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-24950487]


Oil Spill Water Damage

In 2010, an oil spill in Ecuador breached international borders and polluted the drinking water of communities along the Amazon River. This damaged pipeline has spilled up to 11,000 barrels, or 420,000 gallons of crude oil into Quijos River. This oil spill has reached the Peruvian Amazon region of Loreto, and Brazil has been put on “alert” to watch out for spill. The oil carried east into River coca, a tributary of the Napo River, which flows into the Amazon River. The Amazon provides us with more than 20% of the world’s oxygen. A new study shows that while the Amazon rain forest is the Lungs of The Planet, pulling down gigatonnes of CO2, the river undoes all the good the trees do, and pours all the CO2 back into the sky. The Amazon rainforest and river are connect in various ways and when one is polluted it affects the other as well. [10. Oil spill in Ecuador river reaches Peru, Brazil ‘on alert’ 2010 http://tcktcktck.org/2013/06/oil-spill-in-ecuador-river-reaches-peru-brazil-on-alert/53503]


In this video, the indigenous people in this area of the Brazilian Amazon consider the water intertwined with their religious beliefs. The river provides them with means of transport and this religious entity, which is endanger of being interfered with by the building of these new dams sanctioned by the Brazilian government. Local indigenous people have come together to fight the building of these dams- not wanting to lose control of the river that has been theirs all this time. This identifies the struggle of determining rights over shared rivers, the natives having had rights all this time and the government suddenly wanting to claim rights. In the eyes of the indigenous people this river is a piece of their culture, meanwhile to the government its a source of energy and income to be exploited. [8. 2008 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJM9bSjpc_g&app=desktop]



Indigenous people being relocated due to dam construction

The choice by the Brazilian government to build the Belo Monte dam along the Xingu river in the Amazon would force 20,000-40,000 people off this land, destroying their communities and hurting their livelihoods. Of those thousands, 25,000 are indigenous people that are separated in about 40 different ethnic groups, who would all be torn from their homes. Removing them would destroy the remarkable diversity in the area. Like in this picture, many of the indigenous people in this area depend on hunting fish, ranching, and soy monoculture to survive. All these activities are supported by this land and sustained by the river, which would be taken out, demolishing these sources of craft and living. [9. Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam http://amazonwatch.org/work/belo-monte-dam]


Those living in the Amazon endure worst floods in years

The Rio Solimoes is one of the two main extensions of the Amazon river.  The Rio Solimoes in 2012 rose much higher than is sustainable due to heavy rains,  affecting other rivers in the Amazon connected to it by causing them to overflow.  This resulted in emergency caliber floods.  That wasn’t the first time massive floods like those have occurred- in 2011 500 people were killed in floods.  The heavy rains led to landslides that  engulfed houses and destroyed neighborhoods.  Mudslides also left many people homeless.  Whether it be the force of the flood or the effect of rainwaters, people were displaced and severely injured or even killed by these powerful natural forces. [10. Cities in Brazilian Amazon Face Worst Floods in Years, 2012 http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/cities-brazilian-amazon-faces-worst-floods-years-337677]


amazon threats

Threats to the Amazon Freshwater

The above map lists threats to the maintenance of freshwater coming from the Amazon River.  The many dams that have been planned for construction could limit the water circulation, causing problems with water quality and species reproduction for different fish and plants.  These water changes along with deforestation (mentioned above) will require that people and freshwater animals of the area adapt to the new conditions.  Also noted on the map, different petroleum extraction areas have been leaked into some parts of the river causing a shortage of freshwater for the area.  It was also mentioned in this degradation article that no conservation efforts have been attempted to ease the harsh changes to the freshwater system. [11. Amazon river ecosystems being rapidly degraded, but remain neglected by conservation efforts, 2013, http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0208-amazon-river-threats.html]



World Sanitation and water quality

As seen in the graphs above, Brazil is in the 75-90% for use of improved drinking water sources and improved sanitation.  While this may seem high in relation to the rest of the world, this number is an average for the country and there are still some areas that need more improvement.  15% of Brazilian children live in areas in which there is outside sewage near water.  Not only is there poor sewage collection, but there is also little treatment of drinking water.  There are still people that die due to chronic diarrhea and some without any access to sanitation. [12. Sanitation in Brazil is Still Unsatisfactory, 2013 http://www12.senado.gov.br/internacional/en/2013/essential-to-water-quality-sanitation-in-brazil-is-still-unsatisfactory]


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