RIO DE JANEIRO – Sixty-eight percent of the protection and conservation zones in Amazonia, including indigenous territories, are threatened by extractive activities, infrastructure projects, the building of hydroelectric plants and deforestation, according to a study released on Wednesday in Brazil by the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA).
According to the report, mining and petroleum extraction activities along are placing 22 percent of those zones at risk, a total of about 87 million hectares (about 281 million acres) in the Amazon region.
The study is based on an analysis that identifies pressures and threats to Amazonia from transportation infrastructure projects (i.e. roadways), energy (hydroelectric plants) and extractive industries (mining and oil exploitation), as well as uncontrolled burning of forest land and deforestation in general.
Prepared by the Amazonica Network for Socioenvironmental Georeferenced Information (Raisg) – a technical group comprising organizations in six countries in the Amazon region (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela) – the report was released in Brazil by the ISA, one of the non-governmental organizations making up the network.
The analysis found that the mining and petroleum industries are those that carry the most weight in the “pan-Amazon” region, that is, in the territories protected by national laws in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana, that together have projects that could affect 208 million hectares in the region.
Although the threats include illegal mining activities, which are present throughout the region, the study emphasizes that the risks also come from extractive projects that have been approved by the various governments, many of which have launched them without the required consultation with the populations to be affected or impacted by them.
Brazil is at the head of the list, with extractive projects in development or about to begin affecting more than 117 million hectares, of which mining covers 108 million hectares.
Next in order come Peru and Colombia, with extractive industry projects impacting 21 million and 20 million hectares, respectively.
Regarding transportation routes, of which 136,000 kilometers (about 84,300 miles) have been mapped out in the network area, approximately 20 percent are being undertaken in protected natural areas and indigenous territories.
According to the report, there is a direct connection between the expansion of roadways and the elimination of native vegetation.
The “Space-time dynamics of deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia” research project, which was cited in the study, found that most of the deforestation in Brazil occurs near roadways.
“Other countries, like Peru, are now evaluating the consequences of the recent construction of important roads, like the Interoceanica Sur highway finished in 2010. And areas that earlier were not affected in Amazonia are now experiencing a boom in new road construction, as is the case in Colombia and Bolivia,” it says.
In Colombia’s case, the report says that after the signing of the peace pact with the government the FARC guerrillas ceased their occupation of strategic entry points to the Amazon jungle and, since the presence of the state is “almost zero” in those areas, that had facilitated a “rapid opening of new routes and the completion of others” built before the accord.
Regarding Bolivia, the report cites the threats to the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory, one of the 22 national protected areas covering 1.3 million hectares.
According to the study, this environmental preserve, where 12,000 members of the Mojeño, Yuracare and Chimane tribes live, is threatened by the expansion of coca plantations and the building of the new Villa Tunari highway through the heart of the territory to link the provinces of Cochabamba and Beni.
Another risk to the region comes from energy projects. According to the report, of the 272 large hydroelectric centers in Amazonia that are in the planning, construction of operational stages, 78 are inside the indigenous territories and 84 are within protected nature areas.