Water for life in the Amazon

Proposals on water for the Summit of Presidents of the Amazon

According to the Scientific Panel for the Amazon, the Amazon region is an important source of moisture for several regions of South America, such as the Andes, providing moisture and precipitation to glaciers, páramos and large cities, and also to the La Plata river basin. . The recycling of precipitation and evapotranspiration is strongly correlated in the Amazon.

Different studies on the regulation of the temperature of the earth’s surface indicate that the Amazon forests act as a gigantic air conditioner. This is mainly due to the ability of forests to transport large amounts of water vapor from the ground to the atmosphere through evapotranspiration. Forest roots pump wet season soil moisture into the air to maintain rainfall during the dry season. The transport of water vapor occurs in relatively narrow spaces in the atmosphere known as «aerial rivers» or «flying rivers» [1] . The daytime temperature of the land surface in forested areas of southeastern Amazonia tends to be 5ºC lower than in deforested areas during the dry season.

The aquatic biodiversity of the Amazon is relevant worldwide. So far 2,406 species of fish have been described. Amazon rivers and streams connect distant parts of the vast Amazon basin that are vital for fish migration and sediment flow. In the last four decades, and especially in the last two, many Amazonian aquatic ecosystems have become less connected and more polluted.

The aquatic systems of the Amazon are fragile and suffer the cumulative impact of deforestation, mining, pesticides, dams, urban pollution, mega-waterways, and others. The effects of these actions not only feed back, but have repercussions thousands of kilometers away.

To the extent that the impacts of deforestation and mining have been addressed in the respective proposal documents for the Summit of Presidents of the Amazon, we will briefly develop the other factors that affect the aquatic system of the Amazon.

Hydroelectric dams block fish migration and the associated transport of water, sediment, and nutrients. They also alter river flows and oxygen levels. Hydroelectric dams have a negative impact on fish communities, both upstream and downstream of reservoirs. Amazonian dams and their ineffective fish passages have already seriously disrupted the migration routes of many fish species, such as the Madeira River ‘giant catfish’. On the Madeira River, sediment transport downstream of the Santo Antônio and Jirau dams was reduced by 20% compared to pre-dam amounts, which may have contributed to the sharp declines observed in fish catches offshore. below the dams.

Roads are also a major threat to aquatic systems in the Amazon because they are often built without adequate water passages, such as culverts or bridges, breaking up small tributaries and acting as dams on seasonal streams.

Likewise, the large waterways have serious repercussions on aquatic ecosystems, as a result of drastic interventions such as dredging, rock blasting, deviations from the natural course of the river, construction of port terminals, as well as incentives for the expansion of agribusiness and mining. on a large scale. In the Peruvian Amazon, the recently contracted 2,700 km Hidrovía Amazónica could significantly alter the morphology of river channels, affecting the diversity of fish and the productivity on which local economies depend.

The overexploitation of fish such as the giant pirarucú or paiche and the great tambaqui or gamitana generates a significant impact on the aquatic system of the Amazon. Added to this is the use of invasive species for agriculture, the cultivation of ornamental and exotic species, and recreational fishing that feed on native species and reduce their abundance, even affecting Ramsar sites in the Amazon.

Pesticides, herbicides, and other contaminants present in agrochemicals, as well as precursors used in drug trafficking affect fish species and the biodiversity of rivers and lagoons. The herbicide glyphosate and the pesticide malathion have been shown to cause metabolic and cellular damage in fish, and the pesticides have been detected in river dolphins and Amazonian turtles. Laboratory experiments with fish have shown that glyphosate and other herbicides cause liver and gill damage, as well as DNA breakage and an increased risk of cancer.

Another issue to highlight is pollution and oil spills, especially present in Ecuador and Peru. To this we must add the serious impact of urban wastewater and plastics that affect fish and aquatic invertebrates.


  • Within the framework of ACTO, the Amazon Basin Project is executed under three lines of action, the first to promote the integrated management of water resources (GIRH) creating a Permanent Mechanism for this purpose, the second to face climate variability and change and the third to address knowledge management. This initiative includes early warning systems in some basins, water quantity and quality monitoring networks, hydrogeological evaluations, and also proposes, in the case of Suriname, the creation of «Blue Forests for Blue Economy» carbon credit mechanisms and the promotion of “climate-smart agricultural practices” in Venezuela.
  • The Andean Community has approved the «Andean Strategy for the Integrated Management of Water Resources (Decision 763 of 08/22/2011) which has seven major lines of action ranging from knowledge management, the strength of governance, the conservation and sustainable use of water resources, the response to the effects of climate change on water resources, up to supporting the integrated management of water resources. There is little evidence on the effective progress of this Andean Strategy.
  • Ecuador and Bolivia have recognized the rights of nature/Mother Earth in their constitution and national legislation. In Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, there are different judgments and initiatives for the recognition of rivers and lakes as subjects of rights, notably the judgments of the Supreme Court of Justice of Colombia that recognizes the Atrato River, its basin, and tributaries as a entity subject to rights to protection, conservation, maintenance and restoration by the State and ethnic communities [2] , and one that recognizes the Colombian Amazon as an «entity», «subject of rights».


  1. Promote the creation of protected aquatic areas to conserve aquatic biota and the health of rivers and lagoons in the Amazon.
  2. Establish cooperation agreements to manage the sustainable and multidimensional use of transboundary aquatic systems in the Amazon.
  3. Prohibit the construction of hydroelectric dams with an installed capacity of more than 10 MW (proposal of the Scientific Panel for the Amazon).
  4. Promote coordination between states for the protection of Ramsar sites in the Amazon.
  5. Promote renewable energy alternatives, especially small-scale solar for consumption by local populations.
  6. Promote research in the hydrographic basins throughout the Amazon for the protection of the genetic diversity of the different species.
  7. Adopt the measures proposed to avoid the point of no return in the Amazon and achieve zero deforestation before 2030 (see proposals on deforestation).
  8. Develop a Transition Plan to exit legal and illegal mining and reduce the use of mercury until it is eliminated (see proposal on mining).
  9. Prohibit the use of agrochemicals classified as toxic and dangerous (WHO Classification I and II) in agricultural activities.
  10. Guarantee the effective application of the Free and Informed Prior Consultation in accordance with ILO Convention 169, international standards and the opinions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, respecting the autonomous consultation protocols of the Amazonian peoples (see proposal on peoples of The Amazon).
  11. Carry out comprehensive and cumulative strategic environmental impact assessment studies by independent entities for all works, activities and projects that may have an impact on the aquatic system of the Amazon.
  12. Classify and incorporate the crime of ecocide into the laws of the Amazon countries to punish the perpetrators of this massive and high-impact crime against nature, including acts of devastation of rivers by hydroelectric dams, mining, and other predatory activities.
  13. Declare the rivers, lagoons and the aquatic system of the Amazon as subjects of rights and guarantee their rights to exist, not to be contaminated, to flow, to preserve their vital and regeneration cycles and to the timely and effective restoration of their water systems. life.

[1]  https://www.laamazoniaquequeremos.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Chapter-7-in-Brief-SP.pdf

[2]  https://systemicalternatives.org/2022/03/29/reconocimiento-del-rio-atrato-como-sujeto-de-derechos/

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