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Thursday, February 11, 1999 Published at 12:16 GMT


Amazon fires burn more fiercely

The Amazon burns: An area the size of France has gone since 1972

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

The Brazilian Government says there are signs that the loss of Amazon forests in 1998 rose by over a quarter compared with the previous year.

The environment ministry in Brasilia said data from satellite monitoring showed that 16,800 square kilometres - more than half the size of Belgium - had been cleared last year.

It said that was 27% more than in 1997, but a little lower than in 1996. A spokeswoman said the figures were only an estimate, and confirmation would come over the next year. "It could be that they are correct, but they might also be incorrect."

In a statement, the ministry said the latest figures brought the total forest loss in the Amazon since 1972 to 532,086 sq km. That equals 13.3% of the whole Amazon region, and is roughly the same size as France.

According to the statement, the new Environment Minister, Jose Sarney Filho, said he would focus on the problems of poor Amazonians as a way of trying to slow the rate of loss.

Out of control

He and his colleagues were criticised by the World Wide Fund for Nature, which said the data showed the government was unable to control deforestation.

[ image: Not much is left after the flames]
Not much is left after the flames
A WWF statement said: "The new increase in the deforestation rate of the Amazon shows that the government has failed in its fight against this damaging practice." WWF also suggested that the latest findings might in fact be an underestimate.

It said the satellites used to monitor the destruction could pick out deforested areas of six hectares and more, but could not spot smaller clearings. The group said several announcements made by the government in January 1998 on ways to tackle forest loss had come to nothing.

WWF said these included new restrictions on the use of fire to clear forests, which it said were effectively vetoed by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso later. It said new legislation for the forestry industry had yet to take effect.

And WWF blamed Brazilian bureaucracy for delaying a payment of $300,000 from the World Bank. It said the delay had meant the freezing of a plan announced by the president in April 1998 to protect 10% of the Amazon forest.

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