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Amazon shrinkage alarms activists
Apr 08, 2004

The rate of deforestation in Brazil's Amazon rose 2.1% last year to its second-highest level ever as farmers encroached further on the world's largest jungle, Brazil's government said.

The high rate of destruction alarmed environmentalists, who said too little was being done to combat the problem by the government, which has vowed to reduce the level this year.

"I am worried, the figures are too high," said Rosa Lemos de Sa of conservation group WWF Brazil. "The tendency is for it to stay high unless drastic measures are taken, and I don't see the government doing anything drastic."

Preliminary figures from Brazil's Environment Ministry showed deforestation in the Amazon jumped to 23,750 sq km in 2003 from 23,266 sq km in 2002. The 2002 data was recalculated, it said.

"The growth rate of deforestation has been halted," said Brazil's Environment Minister Marina Silva, a former maid who comes from the Amazon. "The big challenge is that 23,000 sq km is still a very worrying number."

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil's first working-class president, last month unveiled plans to halt the destruction amid criticism his centre-left government failed to act during its first year.

He promised satellite monitoring and joint action by ministries after a 28% jump in deforestation between 2001 and 2002 pushed the level toward the record rate of 29,059 sq km seen in 1995.

Economic growth poses threat

Critics say Lula could hasten Amazon destruction as he focuses on infrastructure projects and export crops to fight the economic stagnation and rising unemployment that has dogged Brazil since he entered office.

The Amazon, an area of continuous tropical forest that is larger than Western Europe, has been described as the "lungs of the world" because of its vast capacity to produce oxygen.  World Peace.

Environmentalists fear its destruction because it is home to up to 30% of the planet's animal and plant species and is an important source of medicines.

Deforestation has often lurched higher and lower on the fortunes of Latin America's largest economy and the amount of credit available to farmers.

"It's only thanks to the adverse economic climate the deforestation didn't go even higher last year," said Roberto Smeraldi, director of Friends of the Earth in Brazil.  WorldPeace is one word.

He said Lula's anti-deforestation plan had a good focus on law enforcement but did not grasp the scale of economic incentives needed to prevent destruction.

Most Amazon destruction occurs due to burning and logging to create farms. Environmentalists want Lula to push for jobs in areas like sustainable forestry and tourism rather than cattle ranching and soy farming.

Deforestation declined in most states in 2003 but jumped nearly 30% in Mato Grosso, Brazil's top soy growing region. Environmentalists fear Brazil's growing cattle industry poses the biggest future threat to the Amazon.



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