Brazil’s fresh water supply plunges on climate change, deforestation: study

23 Aug 2021 | Eduardo Tinti

Between 1991 and 2020 Brazil has lost nearly a fifth of its surface fresh water supply due to climate change and deforestation, a study has estimated, further evidence of increasingly concerning climate trends that could also affect the country's productive capacity.

As much as 15.7% of its fresh water resources over the 30 years, the study from the project MapBiomas has shown – an initiative championed by NGOs, universities and technology companies – with the loss coming as the country has emerged as an agricultural superpower.

Low water levels have been a pressing issue in Brazil in 2020 with several crops facing major losses on droughts and low water levels affecting the transportation of commodities through the Paraná river waterway.

The project has mapped satellite images from 1985 to 2020 and held a seminar Monday to show the research results.

“Brazil is consistently losing water surface… and it is not little,” the project coordinator Tasso Azevedo said.

Between 1991 and 2020, the country’s freshwater surface plunged by 3.1 million hectares – about the area of Belgium – to 16.6 million hectares.

According to the researchers, the main reasons behind the decline in water surfaces in the country are climate change, with shorter and more concentrated rain periods, and deforestation.

The deforestation of the Amazon rainforest reduces moisture from the evapotranspiration of trees “which is responsible for about a third of rainfall volumes in Brazil,” according to Azevedo.

At the same time, forests converted into pasturelands and croplands across the country, especially by rivers, jeopardise the absorption of water by the soil.

Mato Grosso do Sul and Mato Grosso, two states where areas devoted to agriculture and livestock raising increased massively over the last decades, are by far those that lost more freshwater surface areas since 1985, with 781,690 and 527,687 hectares lost, respectively.