fOCUS Amazônia – When the river of my childhood runs dry

Photography © Raphael Alves

When the river of my childhood runs dry/Quando secar o rio da minha infância

by Raphael Alves, January 20, 2024

The drought that occurs every year in the Amazon region has this time left Brazil’s largest state (Amazonas) and most of the Amazon in a state of emergency. The 62 municipalities have suffered from the drought, affecting the lives of more than 600,000 people. All this, two years after the biggest flood in history. In other words, extreme events are becoming more frequent due to climate change and the impact of unbridled human activity.

The damage was felt by the inhabitants of the Amazon region. High temperatures, sandbanks that formed in the middle of rivers, isolating communities and riverine settlements.

This year’s drought reached the historic mark of 12.70 meters, according to a record made at the port of Manaus on October 27, the lowest level since measurements began 121 years ago. According to the National Center for Natural Disaster Monitoring and Warning, rainfall from June to August was below average for the period. Experts point out that two main factors inhibited the formation of clouds and, consequently, rainfall: the El Niño phenomenon, characterized by an abnormal warming of the Pacific Ocean, and climate change.

At the Lago do Piranha Sustainable Development Reserve in Manacapuru, Amazonas, Brazil, boatman Paulo Monteiro da Cruz, 49, navigates among thousands of fish that have died from the heat and acidity of the water. The fish died because of the severe drought that has hit the Amazon.
Boaters were forced to tow their boats across what was left of Lake Aleixo during the severe drought that hit the Amazon in 2023. In Manaus, the state capital, the drought peaked in the second half of October, according to Brazil’s Geological Survey.
Raimundo Silva do Carmo, 68, collects water from a well he dug in the mud of Lago do Puraquequara, east of Manaus, one of the areas most affected by the drought that has devastated the state of Amazonas.
Raimundo Silva do Carmo, 68, drinks water from a well he dug in the mud of what remains of Lago do Puraquequara, in Manaus, one of the areas most affected by the drought in Amazonas.
A speaker from the Bom Intento community (in Manaquiri, Amazonas, Brazil) is seen on the ground cracked by the severe drought that has hit the Amazon basin. The Solimões River also reached minimum levels in several areas of its bed during the 2023 drought.
Jonathan Siqueira, 33, looks at his houseboat that was stranded on the Tarumã-Açu River, one of the main tributaries of the Rio Negro, in Manaus, Amazonas. Jonathan was stranded with nine other people in the house where he lives. In 2023, the Amazon experienced the worst drought in its history, isolating communities, disrupting navigation, and dramatically reducing the distribution of products and access to water.
The boat Aliança III ran aground outside one of the main ports of Manaus during the record drought of 2023, the most intense ever recorded in the Amazon Basin. The boat’s owners were unable to salvage it and it was completely destroyed.

Raphael Alves’ series When the river of my childhood runs dry/Quando secar o rio da minha infância is his entry for the Photo Essay (Ensaio) category of the 2024 FOTODOC PORTFOLIO AWARD, a platform for publishing the work of Brazilian and foreign photographers, with annual prizes.

Organized by FotoDoc – Festival of Documentary Photography, the aim of the competition is to give visibility to the most diverse forms of photographic expression, without restriction of theme or approach, always seeking excellence in form and content.

Born in Manaus (Amazonas, Brazil), Raphael Alves studied Social Communication with a major in Journalism at the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM), Photography at the State University of Londrina (UEL) and Visual Arts at the National Commercial Education Service (SENAC). He also holds a Master of Arts degree in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography from the London College of Communication / University of the Arts, in London (ING). Raphael’s work has won Pictures of the Year Latin America – POYLatam (2017 and 2021) and Pictures of the Year International POYi (2022), as well as the Getty Images Editorial Grant (2021). In 2023, his work won The Nature Conservancy Contest.