South America's Parana River rings climate alarm

It may not always look like it… some parts are muddy and shallow... but the Parana River is South America's second-largest.

It moves through Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina before reaching the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s a vital waterway for commercial shipping and fishing, provides drinking water to millions of people, powers hydroelectric plants and supports rich biodiversity.

But, the river is in trouble. Hit by cyclical droughts and dwindling rainfall - made worse by climate change - the river has retreated this year to its lowest level since its record low in 1944… with massive implications for all who depend on it.

Like Argentine fisherman Gustavo Alcides Diaz, who says more than his livelihood is at stake:

"Many fish have died because of the dry river. They got trapped and died. (flash) When everything dries, the water is lost. We use that water here, we use it, it gets processed so as to make it drinkable. But when the water is lost we have to go to the city and look for water over there."

Transportation has also been compromised for locals who mostly travel by boat.

Teacher, Javier Herenu:

"The issue of the river drying is complicated for all of us. It is especially complicated for the children in getting to school because they do so by canoe or boat. And at the moment when the river has dried up it is impossible for them to do so. So for this reason, they are arriving on bicycles or walking and for some students it is so complicated so that they can't get here because it's too far away, the part of the river where they are coming from has dried up. So, they are not able to come."

And – South America has taken a financial hit. Argentina has lost about $620 million in soybean meal and soy oil exports alone due to transport problems caused by lower river levels, according to experts.

There’s more: lower water levels have contributed to a spike in wildfires, with people in river island communities losing homes and livestock.

Despite some rain this month, the longer-term weather forecast is not encouraging, with only average or below average water levels predicted into 2022.

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