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The Fate of the Amazon
Brazil is the world's fifth largest country, it's 8.5 million sq km occupy almost half the continent of South America. Much of Brazil is scarcely populated and inaccessible to humans, 36% of the nations territory is in the Amazon where there is less than 1 person per sq kilometre.

The River Amazon at 6275km is the worlds largest river, it's tributaries carry an estimated 20% of the world's fresh water. There are an estimated 1100 tributaries flowing into the Amazonas, 10 of which carry more water than the Mississippi. New mountains, rivers and Indian tribes as well as new species of flora and fauna are still being discovered. The richness and diversity of Brazilian flora and fauna are astounding and the country ranks first in the world for it's variety of primate, amphibian and plant species, third for plant species alone; and fourth for butterfly and reptile species. Despite this the Amazon is being settled, lumbered and depleted at a disastrous rate.

The complex and fragile ecosystem of the Amazon comprises one tenth of the world's entire plant and animal species, roughly 30% of the worlds remaining forest, producing one fifth of the world's oxygen and is irrevocably endangered. The rain forests are still being stripped for cattle ranches, industrial sites and mines and the rivers being damned for electricity.

Jaguars, Caimans, Dolphins and Monkeys are among the host of fauna and flora that are threatened with extinction. As in the past the native Indians will die out with their forests and the invaluable irreplaceable Amazon will be lost forever. In 1995 alone an area the size of Belgium was destroyed.

Despite the many pressures from environmental organisations it seems there is no easing in the destruction rate. Much of the 'green-speak' that has been promised overseas and in Brazil does not happen. The Brazilian 'Environmental Crimes' pact that stated only 20% of land could be logged is not enforced.

Gilberto Mestrinho, now the ex-govenor of the Amazon state, is responsible for destroying over 1.5 million sq km of the Brazilian rainforest during his term in office. He once said 'I like trees and plants though they are not indispensable. After all men have lived in space for almost a year without trees'!!!

During the 80's the Brazilian government acted as if the forests were an asset to exploit to pay back the foreign debt caused during the 20 years of military dictatorship. Encouraged by the 'IMF', 'The International Monetary Fund' and the World Bank, the Brazilian government provided large incentives to coax multinational timber and mining firms to subjugate the Amazon. These gigantic projects were designed to yield short term profits and pay off the foreign debt regardless of environmental and social consequences. Many of the loans for these projects worsened Brazil's foreign debt. The Mata Atlantica, an area of forest that covered 1.5 million sq km has been reduced to a mere 10,000 sq km, and some Brazilian sources say the area will be finished in ten years along with the 300 species of wildlife that are now on the brink of extinction.

Much of the Amazon can not support large scale agriculture, the jungle topsoil is thin and acidic containing insufficient essential calcium phosphorous and potassium for crops. The traditional small scale slash and burn techniques of the nomadic Indians, that put ash into the soil and would herald crops for a small community for a few seasons worked. The Indians would move on and the forest would regenerate. In contrast the modern agricultural techniques are enormous in scale and fail to give the forest a chance to recover.

Vast tracts of land are bought for speculation below the earths surface, not growing on it. Brazilian law requires that one-third of the land be put to use, the owners set fire to the land killing the wildlife indiscriminately, plant grasses and raise cattle. The government approves the land rights and the mineral rights are secured.

It's ironic that most of the countries criticising Brazil's development of the Amazon were encouraging such development only a few years ago. 'Debt-for-nature' policies from the 'World Bank's global environmental facility pumping millions of dollars into conservation initiatives have had an underwhelming success. Funds have a strange habit of missing their destination and finding their way into private accounts; whilst the countries environmental protection units suffer from lack of funds, staff and equipment and as a consequence, an inability to act.

Most environmentalists agree that local communities are in the best position to protect and manage natural resources in the Amazon by control of the type of timber cut, being selective rather than clearing huge tracts of land for only a few commercially valuable trees. Brazil and foreign governments must empower these communities to be the custodians of the Amazon and train and educate these people to manage their resources.

Environmentalists have demonstrated to industry the effects of not polluting and industry is beginning to respond. Environmental studies accompany all major industrial projects, though this doesn't mean that the companies concerned will feel compelled to act on recommendations made. If Brazil's environment and the important role it plays in the stability of the global environment are to succeed it will be through the efforts of environmental pressure from groups like 'Friends of the Earth' to pressure domestic and international banks to stop financing destructive development projects and to persuade the Brazilian government to adopt more rational uses for the Amazon.

For more information on how you can make a difference please contact Friends
of the Earth at or

Thank you.
Niel and Sarah

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