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South American Crop-Shipping Ports on the Verge of Major Crisis as Waterways Dry Up

South America is currently facing one of its worst droughts in years. Not only has the drought caused wide fluctuations in the pricing of Wheat, Corn, and Soybean to multiyear highs, it is also affecting the transport of these crops as waterways dry up.

Signs of the drought began in Southern Brazil in mid-2018. By 2020, it had spread to neighboring Paraguay, Bolivia, and northern Argentina. Matthew Rodell, a hydrologist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said, “This is the second most intense drought in South America since 2002.”

For the shipping industry that operates in and out of these crop-shipping ports, this is an important concern. As rivers dry up, it becomes increasingly dangerous to get accessibility to these ports, as ships might run into being aground in South America’s narrow rivers.

In Paraguay, the situation is nearly running out of control, so much so that vessels are running aground and logjams are forming in river ports as barges remain fixed. The country has asked neighboring Brazil to release water from its humongous Itaipu hydroelectric dam.

The South American crisis is a direct result of global warming’s effects on global agricultural supplies, hellbent on inflating food prices. On top of that, the situation is slated to go out of control as this is just the start of the season.

For Paraguay, a landlocked country with little access to waterways, except rivers, this spells an impending disaster. It operates the world’s third-largest river-barge fleet after the U.S. and China. Barges are now navigating in waters that have been lowered by 3 meters than usual levels.

Argentina’s Rosario, a crucial shipping hub in the country, is seeing water level drops by as much as 1.17 meters (3.8 feet).

The main driving factor behind these droughts is insufficient rains during the wet season for replenishing the rivers. And, its set to get worse in the years to come as global warming intensifies.


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