July 25, 2006

Drought Pares Iguazu Waterfall to a Trickle

FOZ DO IGUACU, Brazil (Reuters) - The worst drought in 20 years has reduced South America's Iguazu falls to a trickle and tourists may have to wait until October to see water gushing over the cliffs again, officials said.

Considered one of the world's natural wonders, the huge thundering Iguazu Falls dwarf North America's Niagara Falls and rival in size Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River in southern Africa.

But the river feeding the falls is parched. Only about 80,000 U.S. gallons per second are tumbling over the fall's jagged rocks, far below the normal flow of 350,000 to 400,000 gallons (1.3 million to 1.5 million liters).

"The situation should return to normal after September. It takes time for the return of rains to fill up the river basin," said Rafael Langwinski, a researcher for the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguacu, which abuts the falls, near the border with Argentina and Paraguay.

The United States and Europe have been experiencing unusually hot weather and Brazil's has been extremely dry, generating debate about global climate change.

At Iguazu falls, rock formations normally covered by sheets of cascading water stood exposed this week.

"It's a different kind of beauty that we say has never been seen before," Jorge Pegoraro, head of Brazil's national park at the falls, told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Terry Wade in Sao Paulo)