Deforestation of Amazon Rainforest Spikes Amid Health Crisis
Wed, April 21, 2021

Deforestation of Amazon Rainforest Spikes Amid Health Crisis


The Amazon rainforest is the world’s biggest rainforest, larger the next two largest rainforests combined. / Photo by Gustavo Frazao via Shutterstock


Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest surged by more than 50% in the first three months this year compared to the same period in 2019, based on the satellite data of the Brazilian Space Agency.

Before Covid-19 struck, climate scientists warned that the soaring deforestation in Amazon coupled with the destructive policies introduced by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro could push the rainforest to an irreversible tipping point where it would stop producing enough rain to sustain itself by 2021. The scientists explained that once such a tipping point is crossed, the ecosystem will start to emit more greenhouse gases than it could capture and as a result, the rainforest will become another source of harmful emissions instead of an important tool to fight against climate change.


Brazil’s indigenous tribes defending the rainforest

State of Maranhão Guajajara tribe member Laercio Guajajara told ABC News that hunters and loggers kept invading their territory. He said that even amid the global health crisis, there are still plenty of invasions happening.

State of Rondonia Karipuna tribe member Andre Karipuna, 27, also said that they are “desperate.” Since their tribe is a tiny isolated community, one infected member can rapidly pass the virus to their whole tribe.

Ever since Bolsonaro took office last year, these indigenous tribes have been under pressure as the President started slashing their funding. He also enforced FUNAI, Brazil’s government body that establishes and carries out policies relating to indigenous people. In July last year, Bolsonaro appointed a federal police officer who had connections to agribusiness to lead FUNAI. Other tribal leaders have taken it into their hands to defend their lands.

The ABC News team was granted access to one Guajajara tribe’s “Guardians” during their patrol in the dense terrain. Deep into the rainforest jungle, these Guardians pursued illegal logging operations using intelligence gathering, satellite imagery, and old-fashioned tracking. The documentary captured the struggle involved, such as detaining an illegal logger, indifferent government bodies, industrial interests, and the fear of reprisals for their actions.


Miles of rainforests have been replaced with commercial developments, including the palm oil industry, logging, and cattle ranching. / Photo by Rich Carey via Shutterstock


Now, facing the threat of Covid-19, the government of Brazil is again advancing the legislation involving indigenous lands. FUNAI passed the Declaration of Recognition of Limits, which prevents indigenous lands from being labeled as indigenous while waiting for their official demarcation.

Environmental groups said that the new legislation provides a way for those who illegally occupy the indigenous lands to claim it as not indigenous. The non-governmental environmental organization Greenpeace states that there will be drastic consequences of said rule, affecting about one-third of the indigenous lands that are still waiting for their official designation from the government.



Legislation that amends Brazil’s land regularization law

In December last year, the Provisional Measure 910 was also decreed, allowing those who illegally occupied or deforested protected federal lands before December 2008 to obtain title to the land below the market value. Critics have alleged that the law comes as a reward for criminal gangs and illegal land grabbers who seized the protected lands from indigenous tribes in Amazon’s rainforest.

IMAZON, a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving the Amazon rainforest, also found that the legislation could lead to added deforestation of up to 16,000 square kilometers (km²) of the rainforest by 2027.

As a response, the Bolsonaro administration denied that the new land ownership law will legitimize and facilitate land-grabbing. It argued that the new landowners are still required to preserve up to 80% of the land and legal titles will be granted only to those who have occupied the lands in a peaceful and tame way for many years.

Reports of violent attacks and illegal logging across the indigenous reserves have, since then, increased and this concerns both large and small indigenous tribes.




Indigenous people have no immune memory

Leaders from the Yanomami reserve, one of the largest indigenous territories in Brazil, have also reported a surge of illegal gold mining during the Covid-19 pandemic. Their claim was supported by the satellite photographs published by BBC, showing that the illegal miners have already advanced about 5 kilometers from the newly opened garden by the Yanomami subgroup, who lives in voluntary isolation. These indigenous people are especially vulnerable to the pandemic because they never received any vaccine and they have customs that tend to facilitate the spread of respiratory diseases. Furthermore, there are no hospitals in their territories.

A complaint has also been submitted by another indigenous tribe called the Karipuna, one of the most vulnerable and smallest indigenous tribes in Brazil with less than a hundred people. They claimed that they saw non-indigenous people clearing inside their reserve on April 8th. The complaint states that the authorities must take structural and surgical measures to combat land grabbing that is underway.



Amazon rainforest: statistics

The Amazon rainforest is the world’s biggest rainforest, larger the next two largest rainforests combined. It is estimated to have 390 billion individual trees and 16,000 tree species, according to Mongabay, a platform that seeks to raise interest in and appreciation of wildlands and wildlife.

Miles of rainforests have been replaced with commercial developments, including the palm oil industry, logging, and cattle ranching. In 2010, Amazon had an estimated forest cover of 3,433,519 square kilometers; it went down to 3,390,835 square kilometers in 2018. Forest cover refers to the sure or relative land area that is covered by forests or the forest canopy.




Cattle ranching in the Amazon region

Cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in Amazon, accounting for 65 to 70% deforestation rates. Amazon is home to an estimated 200 million head of cattle and is also the biggest exporter of beef in the world. After cattle ranching, another cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is small-scale agriculture (20-25%), large-scale agriculture (5-10%), logging (2-3%), and other (1-2%).

The world’s forests serve as shields and they keep humans safe from diseases. Scientists have already explained that deforestation can lead to more infectious diseases. When a virus leaves its natural host and enters the human body, it leads to chaos. The Covid-19 is proof of that, which makes it all the more reason we should not destroy our ecosystem.