Satellite View Shows Amazon Rainforest Shrinking Fast

BRASILIA, Brazil, June 27, 2003 (ENS) - The new deforestation rate in the Amazon announced by the Brazilian government has shocked conservationists, who said that drastic measures are needed to reverse a large increase in clearing since last year. The world's largest tropical rainforest is being rapidly cleared for agriculture, including soy bean fields and cattle ranches.

Based on the annual satellite image survey by the Brazilian National Space Research Institute (INPE), 25,500 square kilometers (9,845 square miles) of Amazon forests disappeared between July 2001 and June 2002.

forest fire

Clearing and forest fires, logging and roadbuilding are taking their toll on the Amazon rainforest. (Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service)
This is the highest deforestation rate since the 1994-1995 peak of 29,000 square kilometers (11,197 square miles), INPE said, announcing the survey results on Wednesday.

According to INPE, the annual average deforestation rate in the Brazilian Amazon Forest from 1995 to 2001 was about 18,000 square kilometers (6,949 square miles).

Environment Minister Marina Silva told reporters Thursday, "We are going to take emergency action to deal with this highly worrying rise in deforestation." She pledged to make the government's proposals public next week.

An area larger than France has already been deforested in the Brazilian Amazon, and about one-third of those cleared lands are believed to have been abandoned and underutilized.

Silva announced plans to bring together all the ministries concerned to identify causes and to implement measures to solve the deforestation problem.


Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva (Photo courtesy Ministerio do Meio Ambiente)
She pledged to make the deforestation data available, an unprecedented move, with the aim of fostering debate and involving stakeholders in the formulation and implementation of actions for combating deforestation.

A technical analysis of the historical series of INPE data from the years 1997, 2000, 2001 and 2002 will take place to identify the principal agents of deforestation, trends and scenarios, Silva said.

The analysis will attempt to discern the areas in which deforestation is an authorized legal activity from those in which deforestation is an illegal activity, and identify new areas where deforestation is advancing.

She pledged to define critical areas where the implementation of emergency measures for combating illegal deforestation should be a priority.

WWF, the conservation organization, is urging the Brazilian government to implement policies it has already committed to prevent the conversion of the Amazon Forest into mismanaged and exploited zones.

"The rate of deforestation that was just announced looks bad, but those of us who are in the field have indications to fear that the past year has been even worse," said Luis Meneses, WWF-Brazil's Amazon coordinator.


Two barges transporting over 200 logs of illegal wood were impounded by the Brazilian Environmental Agency IBAMA after a three days blockade by 40 small river boats in the Jaraucu River. September 2002. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
"The highest priority is to implement public policies aimed to stop the conversion of the forest into areas that after a short period of occupation and exploitation are abandoned, and leave behind unemployment, poverty and urbanization lacking basic needs such as sanitation," Meneses said.

The Brazilian government has said it plans to invest over $40 billion in new highways, railroads, hydroelectric reservoirs, power lines, and gas lines in the Amazon over the next few years. About 5,000 miles of highways will be paved. The government claims that these projects will have only limited effects on the Amazon.

Urgent creation and implementation of protected areas, to prevent the expansion of the deforestation front is needed, said WWF. The Amazon Protected Areas Programme, carried out by the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment in partnership with WWF, could serve as a model. Implementation of this program will ensure that at least 12 percent of the Brazilian Amazon is set aside as nature parks and reserves.

Silva said she would propose improvement of the methodologies used to assess deforestation in the region, including the introduction of a real time monitoring system that will allow the government to take preventive actions.