Last month, over 100 Amazonian river dolphins were found dead in a lake in the Brazilian Amazon. Their fate was due to a combination of heat and low water levels from what many consider to be the worst drought in the history of the Amazon.
Like other extreme weather events, the climate crisis is a direct cause. A key factor exacerbating the problem is, of course, deforestation. Stopping deforestation from industrial agriculture, mining, and “development” projects in the Amazon is essential for the survival of not only the plant and animal species in the rainforest, but hundreds of thousands of Brazil’s Indigenous, riverine, and quilombola communities. That is why the movement to “demarcate” (secure legal recognition of Indigenous territories) is absolutely critical at this moment in history.
Several factors combined to help create this dire drought: the El Niño phenomenon, rising temperatures of the North Atlantic due to climate change, and deforestation that reduced humidity generation.
This historic drought – the second most severe in the past 13 years – has reduced the water of many of the region’s rivers to alarmingly low levels. As a result, many rivers in the rainforest have become unnavigable, and thus access to clean water and food has become extremely limited, jeopardizing the health of the population.
In addition to the severe lack of access to potable water, food, and medical supplies, it has also impeded movement for Indigenous, forest, and riverine communities who rely on the rivers for transportation.
While the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon did dip by 42.5% in the first half of this year, the picture remains grim when it comes to fires. The intense drought has rendered the forest even more susceptible to fires, and it has caused the fire season to extend into months that had not seen many fires in previous years. For example, according to Amazônia Real, 3,075 hot spots were detected this June, which was the worst figure in 16 years.
Meanwhile, efforts to permanently protect the region from destruction are under siege by Brazil’s right-wing agribusiness class. Under the current Lula administration, the Indigenous movement has already obtained legal recognition of ancestral lands totaling more than 800,000 hectares. Demarcation is the process that secures the legal right to own, manage, and protect traditional lands from all forms of extraction and destruction, including mining and agribusiness. It secures rights to self-determination and sovereignty and protects traditional knowledge and cultural practices for future generations. To prevent deforestation and the devastating consequences of severe drought in the Amazon, 100% of Indigenous lands must be demarcated.
Over a hundred more Brazilian Indigenous territories are awaiting demarcation, but more than three-quarters of them are already being eyed for mining requests. To stop catastrophic climate change, to protect Indigenous cultures, to prevent the next drought and keep the Amazon’s river dolphins and other species thriving, Indigenous rights are the key.