With water levels in the Amazon rivers falling to unprecedented lows, mobility between communities is restricted, many are running out of water and supplies, and river dolphins and other animals are dying. In the Amazonas alone, more than 65% of the 62 municipalities, are in a state of emergency. It is estimated that around 500,000 people will be affected by the end of October and the situation is expected to continue over the next few months.
In addition to the humanitarian and environmental crisis, the current drought in the Brazilian Amazon has sent a warning signal for tourism in the region. Jungle hotels, travel agencies, houseboats, boat tours and experiences in traditional communities have decided to suspend their activities with no date for resumption.
In a country that annually faces dozens of forest fires, floods and extreme temperatures, this may be the first time that the tourism sector is becoming truly aware of the impacts of climate change and the urgency of adaptation.
The drought is most severe in the so-called Western Amazon, which includes the states of Acre, Rondônia, Roraima and Amazonas, and mainly affects communities and hotels that depend on rivers for transit. This is the case of Manati Lodge, a family hotel located just over 1.5 hours from the capital of Amazonas, Manaus. Last October 3rd the owners announced the forced break: “The drought is coming dramatically and, unfortunately, we will have to temporarily suspend our operation. Our hotel is on the banks of the Acajatuba lake and is already isolated. Supplies, fuel, employees and our guests can no longer get here. Our alternative ways for boarding and disembarking no longer exist. The waters are getting hotter every day and the result you can see on the news: dolphins and fishes are dying every day”.
The hotel first tried to remain open, warning guests that they should readjust expectations and prepare for alternative activities that did not involve navigation, such as trails and river beaches. But the situation has become unsustainable, the last guests battling mud fields to leave the lodge.
At the experience travel agencies Poranduba and Braziliando, the solution is to combine resilience and creativity. While looking for ideas to support the riverine and indigenous communities where they operate and who are no longer receiving income from tourism, the companies are encouraging travellers to postpone their plans to visit the Amazon until the next months.
The riverside community of Tumbira, in the municipality of Iranduba, in Amazonas, which welcomes visitors in a community-based tourism model for many years, is practically isolated. As residents are no longer able to travel, the NGO Fundação Amazonas Sustentável began collecting financial contributions and donations of food and drinking water to help affected families.
It’s curious to notice, however, that on the social networks of most Amazonian luxury lodges, the drought is not a reality. There is not even a message of support and much less information clarifying what the region is experiencing.