The Amazon River
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Last update: 23/03/2020
Located in the North of Brazil, the Amazon River is the longest in the world. Until 2007, it was believed that it was second, behind the Nile River. However, an expedition of researchers went to Peru, where they confirmed the exact source of the river and its length: 6,992km. Researchers have proven that from its source in the Peruvian Andes to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean, the river, whose name changes from Apurimac to Ene, Tambo, Ucayali, and Amazon, forms a stream of continuous water. According to the IBGE, it also has the highest volume of water in the world and accounts for 1/5 of the total fresh water that flows into the oceans.
The hydrographic map of the Amazon River numbers about 1100 rivers. According to the National Water Agency (ANA), the basin of the Amazon includes several countries in South America, with most of it on Brazilian soil: “Brazil (63%), Peru (17%), Bolivia (11%), Colombia (5.8%), Ecuador (2.2%), Venezuela (0.7%) and Guyana (0.2%)”. The main tributaries in Brazil on the right bank are the rivers Javari, Jutaí, Jurua, Madeira, Purus, Tefé and Coari, and on the left bank the Icá, Negro, Solimões, Japurá, Nhamundá and Urube.
At the confluence of the Solimões and the Rio Negro is a spectacular sight: the two rivers have different colours – the Solimões River with clear water and the Rio Negro having dark water – but the waters do not mix. Another interesting phenomenon is the pororoca: waves caused by the violent meeting of the river with the Atlantic Ocean. This is more common in October, the time of year when the tide is higher than the river.
With about 20,000 kilometres of navigable water, the Amazon River is an important transportation route for the region. This feature was essential to the development of the Amazon region and the country, opening up space for national and international trade in goods and raw materials. In 1866, an imperial decree allowed international navigation, the result of extensive discussions involving other nations and the Brazilian government. The permission of access granted to friendly foreign nations sought to ensure sovereignty over the territory and open up space for international trade, consolidating the formation of the national state.
The banks of the Amazon River are inhabited by riverside communities. Between 1872 and 1920, thousands of people, mostly from the Northeast of Brazil, migrated to the Amazon to work in latex extraction. Working conditions were terrible and workers were already indebted to new life, as they needed to pay the travel costs and for tools. This debt caused many to stay. These immigrants ended up integrating with the local indigenous people, constituting the so-called “Caboclo” people.
In the 20th century, there was a stimulus in the settlement of the Amazon, in a spirit of “occupy so as not to lose it.” Governments encouraged agriculture and extensive livestock farming, in addition to extraction. This ended up driving the native peoples from their places and caused great devastation of the Amazon rainforest.
Social movements have confronted the problem and currently fight to preserve the environment and improve the living conditions of riverside communities. A good example of this struggle was Chico Mendes, the assassinated rubber tapper, who became known for fighting for the rights of traditional communities in the territory.
Currently, riverside communities still have little or no access to public services. Most of the population makes a living from fishing, agriculture and handicrafts. They live in stilt houses, using boards to raise the floor during the river’s frequent floods.
Recently, flooding of the Amazon River caused havoc in these communities. Many lost their homes, possessions and crops and await government help to resume their lives.
Recife, 26 May 2014.
Translated by Peter Leamy, April 2015.
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