Paraguay River hits record low, imperiling economy

Sep 23, 2021, 12:38 AM | Updated: 1:28 pm
A fisherman eats below the exposed support beams of the port of Asuncion, amid a historic drought t...

A fisherman eats below the exposed support beams of the port of Asuncion, amid a historic drought that is affecting the river's level, in Paraguay, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

(AP Photo/Jorge Saenz)

ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) — Paraguay’s crucial outlet to the sea fell to its lowest level in at least 117 years on Thursday, threatening massive economic losses to the small South American nation.

Government figures showed the Paraguay River at 56 centimeters (22 inches) below reference in Asuncion, the capital, about 2 centimeters below last year’s previous record.

Oscar Hugo Rodríguez Salcedo, manager of hydrological observations for Directorate of Meteorology and Hydrology, said it was the lowest level recorded at the capital since records began in 1904.

“The possible collapse (of navigation), if it continues this way, would come in about three weeks because there are very critical stages all along the river,” said Esteban Dos Santos, president of the association of maritime companies.

The national Public Works Ministry has ordered dredging of key points along the river so that vessels with a 10-foot draft can pass. Currently, only those with a 7-foot draft can navigate key passages.

The 2,600-kilometer (1,615-mile) river is a crucial commercial gateway to the Atlantic for an otherwise landlocked nation, and also a key source of fish.

“The people come to look for surubi and pacu (two popular local fish species), but our fishermen aren’t catching like before because of the reduction,” said Eulalia Martínez, who sells fish in Remanso, about 22 kilometers (14 miles) north of the capital.

Dos Santos said a similar situation in 2020 caused losses of about $300 million because so many boats were unable to navigate the river with full cargo, or at all.

Government hydrology director Nelson Pérez said Paraguay the upcoming season bodes ill as well due to a La Nina phenomenon “that will bring more drought. The forecast is not good, but it is only a forecast,” he said.

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Paraguay River hits record low, imperiling economy