Brazil has potential to be one of the largest hydropower suppliers in the world. The Brazilian hydrographic network consists of many rivers, which have been used since the colonization of the country.
According to the National Agency of Waterway Transportation, Brazil has more than 20 thousand kilometers of economically navigable waterways, which are used by Brazilian shipping companies for the shipment of goods and passenger transport services. These 20,000 km represent 49.9% of the total waterway network.
Waterway transportation in Brazil is divided into river transport and sea transport. Sea transport is the most important, accounting for almost 75% of international trade in Brazil. River transport is the most economical and non-polluting, however is the least used in Brazil.
Despite the navigation potential of river basins in Brazil, river transport accounts for only 13% of the country’s transportation network, due to many factors. There are many plateau rivers in Brazil, with waterfalls, which hinders navigation. This is the case for the Tietê, Paraná, Tocantins and Araguaia. Another factor is that the easily navigable lowland rivers such as the Amazonas, São Francisco and Paraguai, are located far from the major economic centers of Brazil.
There are regions that depend almost exclusively on this type of transport, such as the Amazon region, where there are practically no roads or railways. According to a study published by ANTAQ, 81% of the infrastructure intended for inland water passengers transport in the Amazon region have low quality standards. In this region alone, around 13 million passengers use inland waterways per year.
The Amazon Basin is the largest hydrographic basin in the world with more than 7 million km², of which approximately 4 million km² are in Brazil. This basin has a lot of navigable rivers, with about 22 000 km of rivers receiving vessels and facilitating the transport of people and goods in the region. The Amazon Basin consists of all rivers, streams and other waterways that flow into the Amazon river.
The Amazon basin has a lot of potential for inland waterway transport, due to the flat topography and the great volume of water in most rivers. The basin is the primary means of travel and communication in the North, transporting most of the production of grains and minerals from this region.
The Brazilian government created a Free Trade Zone in the Western Amazonas region in order to attract foreign investment to the area and to assist in the development of the country. This trade zone is comprised of three economic sectors: commercial, industrial and agricultural.
According to the National Agency of Waterway Transportation, the Manaus Free Trade Zone companies are increasingly using inland waterways for transporting their products to São Paulo, the main consumer center of the country. The Industrial Pole of Manaus has approximately 600 high-tech industries mainly in the electronics, motorcycles and chemicals segment. Among the manufactured products are cell phones, televisions, motorcycles, concentrates for soft drinks and others. The agricultural pole houses projects focused on food production activities, agribusiness, fisheries, tourism, wood processing etc.
Even though it is a vital channel for distribution in the region, the river navigation in the Amazon region has operating problems due to the flood periods during winter and droughts during the summer. Some procedures are necessary to improve the navigation, such as the dredging process, which is used to remove materials, soil, sediments and rocks from the bottom of rivers. Other problems that hinder navigation is the lack of signage and marking of ways causing restrictions to night navigation and increasing travel time.
The Madeira river for example, is one of the most dangerous rivers for navigation in the Amazon, during flood season, there are several logs by the river. During the dry season the problem are the sandbanks formed and hindering navigation.
Main Ports in the North of Brazil
The port of Manaus is located on the left bank of Negro river in the North and is the third largest export port in the country. It is also the busiest port in Brazil with the best infrastructure among the riverports. Among the main products transported through this port are soybeans, chemical and organic products and fuels.
Santarém port on the Amazon river is located in the North and is specialized in the transportation of grains, flammable products such as diesel oil and regular gasoline coming from the Central West.
Other Waterways and Ports
The most important Brazilian waterways, from an economic point of view, are located in the Southeast and South. The full use of other waterways depend on the construction of locks and ports to enable intermodal integration.
Among the main Brazilian waterways, one of the most important is the Tietê-Paraná. This basin is located between the South, Southeast and Central West regions. It is a very important waterway for the transportation of agricultural production in the states of Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goias and part of Rondônia, Tocantins and Minas Gerais.
An important port in the region is Itajaí port, which is located on the Itajaí-Açu river, in the South. It is the second largest port in Brazil for container handling, serving as an export port, draining almost the entire production of the state of Santa Catarina. Itajaí-Açu river transports mainly machinery and commodities.
The port of Corumbá on the Paraguay river is located in the Central West and is the largest port in the region. This port drains extracted manganese ore from the nearby area in the city of Corumbá.