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Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Amazon destruction rate 'falls'
Loggers working in the Amazon
Environmentalists say development must be controlled
Brazilian environmental officials have said that the rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has fallen sharply.

Figures released by the environmental ministry showed that between 2000 and 2001 the rate of destruction fell by 13%, with 15,787 square kilometres (6,095 square miles) destroyed in 2001 by either logging or forest fires, down from 18,226 sq km (7,037 square miles) a year earlier.

The Brazilian Government said that the improved figures - that mark a return to late 1990s figures - were the result of increased monitoring of hotspots and continuing efforts to change land use in the Amazon.

However, environmentalists, despite cautiously welcoming the news, said that more action to control development of the world's largest rainforest was needed.

Environmental concerns

The Amazon, which covers an expanse of territory larger than Western Europe, is thought to be home to up to 30% of the world's animal and plant life and is an invaluable source of novel medicines.

Amazon rainforest destruction
Much destruction is caused by local farmers
Much of the forest's destruction is caused by small farmers, who are authorised by local authorities to cut or burn down portions in order to carve out land for cultivation.

Analuce Freitas, a co-ordinator for Brazil's World Wildlife Fund, said that the only way Brazil could cut deforestation rates was to revamp existing development policies to take into account environmental concerns.

"If environmental policies are not integrated with development projects, these numbers will not change," she told Reuters news agency.

Sustainable development

Other environmentalists warn that the fluctuations in the figures make it difficult for the ministry to claim that deforestation is under control.

Environmental affairs minister Jose Carlos Carvalho has said that as sustainable development projects replace the agricultural and cattle raising activities that prevail in much of the region, so deforestation will decrease.

Of the Amazon's total coverage of 3 million sq km (1.8 million miles), it has been calculated that about 600,000 sq km (240,000 square miles) has been destroyed by human encroachment in the past few decades.

See also:

04 Sep 01 | Americas
25 Jun 01 | Science/Nature
15 May 01 | Americas
15 Sep 00 | Americas
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