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The BBC's Jan Rocha
"The figures are embarrassing for the government"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 15 May, 2001, 22:32 GMT 23:32 UK
Amazon destruction surges
Workers in the Amazon
Up to 40% of the rainforest could be cleared within 20 years
The destruction of Brazil's Amazon rainforest jumped to a five-year high last year, alarming environmentalists and embarrassing the Brazilian Government.

The government had hoped that forest clearance was decreasing, but satellite images analysed by its Space Research Institute reveal that between 1999 and 2000, almost 20,000 sq km were cleared.

Rainforest destruction
If the Amazon disappears, much of the planet's wildlife will lose its habitat
This creates a hole about the size of Belgium, and is a 15% increase on the previous year.

The secretary for Amazon affairs for the Environmental Ministry, Mary Allegretti, blamed the increased deforestation on an improved economic climate.

Demand for land

An unexpectedly healthy recovery from Brazil's recession, following the devaluation of its currency in January 1999, sparked more demand for timber and land.

Ms Allegretti said the rain forest was cut down by logging companies and farmers in search of land.

Independent research institutes forecast that if the government continues with its road building and farming programmes in the Amazon region, up to 40% of the total rainforest will be destroyed within 20 years.

Brazilian police chase landless rural workers in the Amazon city of Belem, north of San Paulo
Brazilian police clash with the Landless Rural Workers movement
Environmentalists say action needs to be taken to reverse the unsustainable destruction of the Amazon, which is home to up to 30% of the world's animal and plant life.

"The beginning of the new millennium could not have been worse for the Amazon, the figures are worrying if we look to the future," said the World Wildlife Fund in a statement.

Ms Allegretti said the government would introduce a licensing system for properties where deforestation was worst.

Government action

But our correspondent Jan Rocha says that within the next two weeks a controversial bill which would allow Amazon farmers to legally clear much greater areas of forest will be debated in Congress.

The bill is supported by farmers and opposed by environmentalists, she says.

The government is also considering building more energy plants in the area, as the country is suffering from a chronic energy shortage.

In 1970, about 99% of the Amazon, which is sometimes termed the "lungs of the planet", due to the huge amounts of oxygen produced by its trees, was still standing.

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See also:

14 Apr 99 | Sci/Tech
Amazon forest loss estimates double
14 Dec 99 | Sci/Tech
Brazilian greens hail Amazon delay
12 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Amazon tree loss continues
19 Apr 99 | Sci/Tech
Amazon logging deal agreed
09 Apr 01 | Americas
Brazilian lost tribe discovered
25 Jan 01 | Americas
Brazil to re-examine Amazon project
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