Amazon forest still shrinking fast

Posted: 8 April 2004

A satellite survey released by Brazil's National Space Sciences Institute (INPE) reveals that the Amazon forest is continuing to be destroyed at a fast rate. Deforestation in 2003 was slightly up on the year before.

The figures show that more than 23,000 square kilometres of Amazon forest - about half the size of Switzerland - disappeared in the 12 months between August 2002 and 2003 due primarily to a large expansion in cattle ranching and industrial-scale farming to meet the export market for beef and soya.

The scale of destruction is not as high as in the mid-1990s, but it confirms the fact that the world's largest forest is disappearing rapidly. Scientists warn that this could affect the global climate as well as threatening thousands of plants and animals.

Amazon forest on fire. Photo: Nigel Dickinson/WWF-Canon
Amazon forest on fire. Photo: Nigel Dickinson/WWF-Canon
More than 23,000 square kilometres of Amazon Forest disappeared between August 2002 and 2003 - about half the size of Switzerland - due mainly to a large expansion in cattle ranching and industrial-scale farming.© Nigel Dickinson/WWF-Canon

Furthermore, according to data by WWF Brazil, the greatest rate of deforestation is occuring in those areas identified by government and scientists as key to the conservation of species in the Amazon.One area has disappeared, while five others have lost half of their forest cover.

In the light of this latest evidence, conservation organisations are calling on the Brazilian government to do much more to halt the increasingly rapid destruction of the world's largest and most important rainforest.

"It is extremely alarming that the rate of deforestation shows no sign of slowing for the second year running" said Denise Hamu, Chief Executive Officer of WWF Brazil. "The government of Brazil needs to urgently respond to this crisis by fulfilling its commitment to triple the area of rainforest under legal protection".


In 1998, in partnership with the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility and WWF, the Brazilian government pledged to triple the amount of rainforest then under protection by setting aside at least 12 per cent of the Amazon for conservation by 2013. In 2002 under the Amazon Regional Protected Areas programme (ARPA) the Tumucumaque National Park, covering more than 38,000 square kilometres was declared a protected area. But although a number of biologically critical areas have since been identified for inclusion in the ARPA network, no new protected area has been declared over the past year.

Furthermore conservationists are concerned that some states have reduced the size of their national parks and that others have reportedly failed to address the needs of entire communities, who have been forcefully evicted from their traditional lands by illegal settlers.

"The government deforestation data is alarming, and underscores the need to move rapidly with plans to zone the most biologically important parts of the Amazon into both strictly protected areas and those where resource use is regulated and sustainable," said Chris Elliott, Director of WWF International's Forest Programme. "Research shows that protected areas, buffered by other zones of sustainable land use are the most effective means of controlling deforestation," .

He said WWF welcomes a government action plan, announced two weeks ago, which highlighted the importance of creating a network of protected areas as envisioned under ARPA. The plan also called for a crackdown on illegal logging and mining, a series of zoning restrictions, and stiffer penalties for offenders.

The Brazilian President, Luiz Inacia Lula da Silva, promised that satellite monitoring and joint action by various ministries would be taken after the 28 per cent jump in deforestation between 2001 and 2002 pushed the level towards the record rate seen in 1995. At the same time the government announced thst it was revising downwards the 2001-2 deforestation figure from 25,500 sq km to 23,260 sq km.

However, WWF argues the government must now put its plans into practice in order to save the world's largest and most important rainforest.