This content is not available in your region

Paraguay drought: Extraordinary photos show how the country is drying up

Boats in sitting on the bed of the Paraguay river amid a historic drought that is affecting its levels, in Chaco-i, Paraguay, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021.
Boats in sitting on the bed of the Paraguay river amid a historic drought that is affecting its levels, in Chaco-i, Paraguay, Monday, Sept. 20, 2021.   -   Copyright  Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
By Scott Brownlee

Paraguay has been in the grips of a severe drought since 2019. It has seen water levels plummet in the landlocked nation's all-important waterways, cutting it off from the rest of the world.

The Paraná-Paraguay Waterway, which winds through Argentina and up to Paraguay, has dropped to its lowest levels in 77 years.

This life-giving conduit allows ships to move 96 per cent of the country’s international imports and exports. Water levels are getting so low that, to avoid grounding, cargo ships are having to dramatically lighten their loads.

Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Empty boats sit moored on the banks of the Paraguay River, in Asuncion, Paraguay, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
A family is silhouetted against a reddish dusk caused by fires from the countryside, in Asuncion, Paraguay, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021.Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

After last year saw historically low water levels, Paraguayans have been surprised to see levels drop even lower this year.

This life-giving waterway allows ships to move 96 per cent of Paraguay’s international imports and exports

Sandbanks have appeared in unexpected places cutting off streams and canals and making waterways even more difficult to navigate.

Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Fishermen take advantage of the drop of the water levels, at San Antonio, on Asuncion's outskirts, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020.Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
People fish on the exposed bed of the Paraguay River, in Villeta, Paraguay, Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
An armchair sits in the waters of the Paraguay River in Lambare, Paraguay, Friday, July 16, 2021.Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

The chain reaction from this years-long drought has seen many industries suffer in Paraguay, from agriculture and fishing to pharmaceuticals and shipping.

October 2020 also saw devastating wildfires rip across huge areas of forest in the country, burning hundreds of thousands of hectares of land. These fires took place alongside a heatwave registering record high temperatures which exacerbated the problem.

Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Firefighters work to put out flames burning grasslands near Altos, Paraguay, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Shipyard workers return to Asuncion after working on the other side of the Paraguay River, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
A fisherman searches for crabs in the Paraguay River near the Remanso bridge in Mariano Roque Alonso, Paraguay, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020.Jorge Saenz/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Scientists are unsure whether the drying up of the river is part of the natural cycle or not but are worried that climate change could be to blame.

Solving the problem has become priority number one for the country's government as they have begun dredging passages along the Paraguay River in an attempt to allow ships in and out of the nation's capital, Asunción.