Alarming increase in Amazon deforestation

Wednesday, February 18, 1998

According to figures released by the National Institute of Space Surveys on January 26, deforestation in the Amazonian region has increased alarmingly in recent years. Around 2,905,900 hectares of forest were cut down in 1994-95, double the annual average recorded during 1992-94.

The 1994-95 figure is approximately 37% higher than the annual average during the decade 1978-88, a period frequently referred to as "the decade of destruction in the Amazon".

Estimates indicate that an area of 51 million hectares has already been deforested in the Amazon. Almost 13% (4 million square kilometres) of the Amazon area has now been deforested.

Fifty per cent of the recent deforestation in the Amazonian region has taken place in the states of Mato Grosso and Para. According to the report, this is due to the clearing of forest areas to settle landless people in federal government agrarian reform projects, but other activities, such as the extraction of timber and large agricultural projects, (many financed by government grants and loans from the government bank), have also contributed significantly to increased deforestation in the region.

A Folha de Sao Paulo report on January 27 pointed out that 10% of the total deforestation of the Amazon since the arrival of the Portuguese colonizers in the 16th century has occurred during the first three years of the presidency of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, 1994-97.

On January 28, the Brazilian Congress passed the Environmental Crimes Act, giving Brazil's environmental agencies authority to enforce environmental law for the first time since 1989. Under the new law, environmental crimes can be punished by fines ranging from US$40 to US$40 million, and prison sentences of up to five years.

However, President Cardoso, under pressure from ranchers and industry, has agreed to veto critical parts of the legislation, substantially weakening it.

Many doubt that IBAMA (the federal government environmental agency) could enforce the new law anyway. The assistant superintendent of IBAMA in the state of Para, Jose Maria Galhardo, commented on January 30 that the agency would need an infrastructure 10 times larger to adequately enforce the new law. IBAMA is responsible for an area of 1.25 million square kilometres and does not have the use of a plane.

[Abridged from News from Brazil at .]