Brazil: rate of Amazon destruction increases

The Amazon is being destroyed more than three times as fast as last year, Brazilian officials said Sept. 29, acknowledging a sharp reversal after three years of decline in the rate of deforestation. Brazilian Environment Minister Carlos Minc said upcoming nationwide elections are partly to blame, with governors in the Amazon region turning a blind eye to illegal logging in hopes of gaining votes locally.

But environmentalists point to the global spike in food prices for encouraging soy farmers and cattle ranchers to clear forested lands. Elections no doubt play a part, but “the tendency of deforestation rising is deeply related to the fact that food prices are going up,” said Paulo Adario, who coordinates Greenpeace’s Amazon campaign. “When you have elections, the appetite of authorities to enforce laws is reduced. But the federal government has to step in and do its job.”

Amazon destruction jumped 228% in August compared to the same month a year ago, according to a report from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Some 300 square miles (760 square kilometers) were destroyed this August, compared to 90 square miles (230 square kilometers) in August 2007.

Minc cgarged the Brazilian government’s own Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), was responsible for destroying 544,000 acres (220,000 hectares) of the Amazon in the past three years by illegally handing over rainforest lands to logging companies and ranchers. INCRA president Rolf Hackbart said all the areas cited by Minc were areas legally settled between 1995 and 2002.

In the 12 months through July, deforestation totalled an estimated 12,000 square kilometers (4,633 square miles), up from 11,224 square kilometers (4,332 square miles) but down from a peak of 27,379 square kilometers (10,570 square miles) in 2004.

Minc pledged a crackdown on illegal logging and ranching in the Amazon. He said the government will create a special environmental police force with 3,000 armed and trained officers to help combat deforestation, Minc said. (AP, Sept. 30, Reuters, Sept. 29)

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