Four Brazilian cities in the Amazon jungle state of Amazonas have been declared disaster areas as the worst drought in 60 years dries up rivers that thousands of families depend on to receive food and medicine, authorities said Monday.
By declaring Manaquiri, Atalaia do Norte, Anori and Caapiranga disaster areas, the state government will be able to receive federal aid.
Officials are mainly concerned with the dwindling supplies of medicine in these cities, where more than 42,000 people live, Roberto Rocha of the Amazonas state Civil Defense Department said by phone.
In Manaquiri, the hardest hit of the four cities, small rivers have all but disappeared, cutting off some 2,000 families from regular supplies of medicine and food, Rocha said.
With the rivers drying up, drinking water has also become scarce, said fire department official Col. Mario Belota, a coordinator of the state's relief efforts.
He said workers have been sent to dig wells in Manaquiri, about 2,650 kilometers (1,645 miles) northwest of Sao Paulo.
"The little water that exists in the rivers is polluted," he added.
Belota also fears a yellow fever epidemic in the region because vaccines are not reaching the region on a regular basis.
Another 17 cities and towns declared a state of alert and the federal government may be asked to provide help, furnishing boats and helicopters, Belota said.
Many cities in the vast Amazon region have little or no road access and rely on rivers for transportation. But a shortage of rain during several months caused the level of the Amazon River to drop to 15.8 meters (51.8 feet) on Monday, far below the average low of 17.6 meters (58.1 feet), said the Brazilian government's Geological Service.
In Tabatinga, near the Colombian border, the Solimoes River, a major Amazon tributary, has dropped to 1.5 meters (5 feet), the lowest ever recorded, the Geological Service's Jayme Azevedo da Silva said.
The level of the Amazon rises and falls regularly, but this year the dry season has been more severe than normal. The fires that farmers and ranchers use to clear the forest have helped raise the temperature in the western Amazon, da Silva said, helping to quickly evaporate the little rain that fell this year.
Rainfall in July was 30.8 millimeters (1.21 inches), 65 percent less than the average of 87.5 millimeters (3.44 inches). In June and August rainfall was about two-thirds the normal amount.
Water levels are expected to rise in early November at the start of the rainy season, AP reported.