Chronicle of a drought announced

By Sofía Dottori Fontanarrosa – Geologist

The Paraguay River is the new unheard of, the next dead that continues to give us life to continue being children of rigour. 

There are signs so clear that sometimes they become dry, stiff, tight. Rivers are only heard when they have no more saliva left. Then it’s up to us to speak, unhappy people we don’t believe we’ve seen. The Paraguay River is the new unheard of, the next dead that continues to give us life to continue being children of rigor. Such is the ungrateful cycle of man against water.

When he was baptized, his Guarani roots overflowed with inspiration. Eloquent mother tongue overflowed with meanings the reservoir it would never have. ” Paragua” by the indigenous tribe payagua, and “ay” means water or river. But it is also “crown of palm and water”, “water like the sea” – by the Bay of Asunción; or “adorned waters”; “river that originates the sea”; “tail of the sea”; or very paradoxically “river of the many waters”. It was fair to point out that its essence is water, the same one that today denounces the greatest absence since the last 50 years. Paraguay is victim of an extreme drought triggered by the La Niña phenomenon, an increasingly frequent event due to global warming. The lack of rainfall in the region of Mato Grosso, where its famous river artery begins, is desperate. From there, the pilgrim river slowly flows towards the south, with a loyal cosmopolitan charity, leaving Brazil to kiss Bolivia, then frolicking in its homonym and finally twinning with Argentina. His abundant laughter has dry corners. With a drop in its level of up to four centimetres a day, the river no longer laughs, nor does it cry. The satellite images taken by the European Copernicus network are irrefutable. The “river of many waters” slowly dehydrates, with the silence of an agony that is just beginning.


San Antonio area south of Asunción, in October 2018. Source: Copernicus Sentinel 2018 – EO Browser – Sentinel Hub.


San Antonio area south of Asunción, in October 2018. Source: Copernicus Sentinel 2018 – EO Browser – Sentinel Hub.


The only thing that’s drowning is the country’s economy. Eighty-five percent of foreign trade passes through it. Navigation is a critical reality. In a few days, no boat will be able to reach Asunción, where according to the Paraguayan National Agency of Hydrology, the level is 47 centimeters below the hydrometric zero, which is three meters below the average level of the riverbed. Cargo ships shall have no port of arrival or departure, as the minimum navigation depth requires at least 3. 60 metres in the water column. The Center of River and Maritime Owners reported that material losses have already reached US$250 million. A suffering that has been completely optional. But the pain was more than avoidable.

While the implications set sail for a storm of cost overruns in the transport of food, fuel, fertilizer and other imported goods, an environmental cataclysm of regional dimensions is wrecked with advance warning. The desertification affecting the Paraguay River today is the same as that which threatens the largest freshwater corridor on the planet: the Paraguay-Paraná Wetland System. Escarapela del pecho de la Cuenca del Plata, the second largest in South America, and with 3400 kilometers of rivers free of dams, this macro-system embraces a surface without borders. From the Brazilian Pantanal to the Paraná Delta, the crystalline symptoms of the climatic emergency of the century are reflected.

According to FAO, Paraguay’s forest cover has declined dramatically since 1950. The NGO Sobrevivencia points out that the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, a key ecosystem for the humidity of the Plata Basin, has accelerated considerably in recent decades. Uncontrolled deforestation is the cruelest and most negligent way of tearing the skin off the ground. Without it, there is no carbon sink to compensate for the pitiful lacerations of greenhouse gases. And without it, there is no instrument to retain and recycle the meager rains.

Wetlands International, a nonprofit wetland conservation organization, announced that the latest rainfall record for the La Plata Basin has been the lowest in its history and future projections point to extended periods of drought in the formerly rainy months. It’s a chronic, event-driven disease. Wet periods will be concentrated and intense, resulting in a marked amplitude in flow levels. A dynamic and violent seasonality. A man-driven water bipolarity.


Río Paraguay. Source: Pixabay.

That’s why the Paraguay River suffers. Because his meandering arms can’t defend themselves. Because his voice does not lull or stir up turbulence like human protests. Because it is becoming soulless without the collective element of all existence. According to the climate change scenarios predicted for 2011-2040, temperatures in the Paraguay Basin will exceed the 2°C established by the Paris Agreement. Rainfall will be reduced by 15%. The future is more hostile than the present.

The resulting decrease in river flows will be 13% in the Pantanal, which today faces the highest rate of fires since 1998, with 10,000 hot spots that have affected 1. 55 million hectares. The hope for correct hydrological functioning is slim. Biodiversity and water resources are being decimated. The guilt of the stalker is inescapable. We have disrupted the harmony of a fruitful ecosystem, wiping out native forests that were enslaved to produce other fruits, those of agriculture and livestock. Contributing 17% to the nation’s GDP, agriculture is the basis of the Paraguayan economy and employs 24% of the total working population. Exports are flourishing at an annual rate of 23%. A business that matures with ambitions and needs that are fertile for blinding. The excessive change in land use is the clear stripping of the balance and the macabre impulse of the regional climate imbalance.

That’s why the Paraguay River perishes. A liquid philanthropist who delivers and supplies himself beyond the limits of his channel. It’s everybody’s and it’s nobody’s. Because that’s what water is, nature’s undivided treasure. A blessing that is shared. And a betrayal that many deny. This is the chronicle of a drought foretold. Now that I’ve told you about it, sit down next to me and let’s cry like Penelope waiting on the pier in Asunción.

Sofía Dottori Fontanarrosa
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Sofía Dottori Fontanarrosa, is a Geologist graduated from the National University of Córdoba, specialized in Climate Change, Carbon and Water Resources and an N+1 Environmental Journalist. With a burning desire to ignite environmental awareness and a clear vocation for the letters, he combines his specialty and his natural resource of the word through the popularization of science.