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Land and Resources, Rivers and Lakes

Sobradinho, Tucurui, Balbina, major tributary, principal river

Brazil has a dense and complex system of rivers. The most impressive river system is that of the Amazon and its tributaries, ranked the largest in the world based on the volume of water it drains. The Amazon is the world’s second longest river, after the Nile in Egypt. Its major tributary, the Tocantins, joins the Amazon near its mouth. The second largest river basin in Brazil is that of the Parana, which flows south between Argentina and Uruguay to empty into the Rio de la Plata estuary. It drains much of the Southeast, South, and Center-west. The principal river of the eastern plateau region, the Sao Francisco, flows north through the highlands in the states of Minas Gerais and Bahia before turning east and entering the Atlantic. The remainder of the country is drained by a series of smaller and shorter rivers along the Atlantic seaboard.

The Amazon is navigable to oceangoing ships as far as Iquitos, in Peru, and its major tributaries are suitable for inland navigation. Parts of the Sao Francisco and Parana are also navigable. However, except in the case of the Amazon, river transport is relatively unimportant in Brazil. The rivers are more important as sources of hydroelectricity, which Brazil depends on for economic development because the country is short of solid fuel.

Most of Brazil’s large lakes are created by dams constructed to produce hydroelectric power or to provide water for irrigation. The largest lakes are Sobradinho, on the Sao Francisco; Tucurui, on the Tocantins; Balbina, on the Amazon; and Furnas, on the Parana. The Sao Francisco is also used for irrigation, and there are a number of reservoirs in the Northeast that provide irrigation and drinking water during the dry season and drought years.



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