Scientists have long warned that extreme weather would cause major disasters in the future. But in South America, that future is already here.
In the past month, there have been deadly landslides in Brazil, wildfires in Argentine wetlands and flooding in the Amazon.
In just three hours on February 15, the Brazilian city of Petropolis received over 25 centimeters of rainfall. That is the most recorded in a single day since officials began keeping records in 1932. The resulting landslides killed more than 100 people and left nearly 1,000 others homeless.
A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that global warming is changing the strength and frequency of extreme weather events. These events have also become more difficult to predict, the report said, leading to additional damage.
An historic drought of the Paraná River dried out much of Argentina’s Ibera Wetlands. Its waters are at the lowest level since 1944. The area has had many severe wildfires in the last two months.
Recently, 70 percent of the city of Jordão in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest was underwater because of flooding from two rivers. The floods have severely affected the lives of thousands of people in the area, including 32 native Brazilian communities.
The entire Amazon rainforest stores between 150 and 200 billion tonnes of carbon in its plant life and soil, says Carlos Nobre. He is a Brazilian climate scientist who has studied the Amazon for more than 30 years.
Nobre told The Associated Press, “If you lose the forest, this carbon dioxide… goes into the atmosphere. It is very important to maintain the forest.”
But most governments across the area have failed to consider the IPCC’s warnings and stop the destruction. Many South American leaders have not spoken about illegal logging and mining activities in at-risk areas.
In Colombia, a recent increase in forest fires led more than 150 international researchers and activists to send a letter urging the government to do more to prevent them. Local lawyers and police officials have said the area is more and more dependent on activists for preservation.
Alejandra Boloqui supervises a private protected land area in Argentina’s Ibera Wetlands. She has been helping firefighters fight against wildfires there. Recently, she recorded 12 alligators fleeing the fires and walking down a dirt road in search of water.
“When I started filming them, I cried. I felt they were saying to me: ‘I’ve been left without a home, I’m leaving,’” Boloqui told the AP. “It got my attention seeing so many alligators moving together during the day. ...They are very slow reptiles who move at night to avoid heat.”
The alligators and many other animals found shelter in a nearby body of water that had dried up due to lack of rain. It has since been refilled using water pumps powered by the sun.
Local officials say the fires started with the burning of farmland for raising cows. That practice has been banned since December. IPCC experts say in the report that droughts make it easier for fires to spread quickly.
Last year, Brazil’s south and southeast areas faced their worst droughts in 90 years. In Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon, rivers rose to levels not seen in over 100 years of record-keeping. Flooding of streets and houses affected about 450,000 people in the area.
The IPCC report says changes in the timing and strength of rainfall, along with extreme temperatures, are affecting agricultural production across Central and South America.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Diane Jeantet, Mauricio Savarese and Debora Rey reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English.
Words in This Story
global – adj. worldwide
frequency – n. rate of repetition
drought – n. a long period of time during which there is very little or no rain
maintain – v. to keep in a particular or desired state
logging – n. the activity or business of felling trees and cutting and preparing the timber
preservation – n. the effort of keeping from injury, loss, or decay