The Amazon Paradox
The Amazon rainforest is the largest on Earth.
It covers approximately seven million km2 of the planet and spreads over nine nations: Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana and Suriname.
Total territorial area: 8,514,877 kmē
- 65% of the Amazon rainforest is located in Brazil.
- According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) 700,000 km2 of the country have been deforested since 1970. This is an area almost the size of France and Belgium.
- Despite this destruction the Brazilian Amazon rainforest remains the largest continuous area of tropical forest in the world.
- Official figures from the Brazilian Space Research Agency (INPE) show that between 2006 and 2007 deforestation rates fell for the third consecutive year. During that period 11,224 km2 of the forest was cut down. This represents a 20% decrease compared to 2005-2006, but still an area the size of 11,000 football fields.
- The government says this improvement was largely due to the creation of protected areas and stricter environmental laws; however, others say it was more due to lower prices of beef and soya.
- Nevertheless INPEīs recent data show a return to an increase in the deforestation rate in the last five months of 2007. INPE said more than 3,000 km2 of rainforest were destroyed, but the figure could double to 7,000 km2 once satellite images with higher resolution were analyzed (that’s an area twice the size of Long Island in the USA).
Total territorial area: 214,970 kmē
- Guyana is the only member of the Commonwealth on the mainland of South America. It is a small, lightly populated country with 751,000 inhabitants.
- About three-quarters of the country is forested, roughly 60 percent of which is classified as primary forest.
- Many of the indigenous and local communities depend totally on the forest for their livelihood.
- More than 4,500 plant species, including 300 varieties of orchids, 300 types of ferns and 800 tree species exist in Guyana.
Total territorial area: 163,820 kmē
- Suriname has one of the lowest deforestation rates in the world. This is due to its extensive forest cover and low population - just some 400,000 people who mainly live in the capital and coastal cities.
- According to Suriname’s Ministry of Natural Resources the drivers of deforestation are mining and forestry. The biggest threat is mercury pollution due to small scale mining.
- Only 5% of the population lives in the rainforest; this includes indigenous peoples and six tribes of Maroons - descendants of escaped slaves who recreated forest communities centuries ago and retain their traditional West African life style.
- Suriname supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Over 5,800 species of mosses, ferns and seeds plants are found there. The country has at least 185 mammal species, more than 700 bird species and 152 reptile species.
Total territorial area: 83,534 kmē
- French Guiana is a French overseas department. Its economy is tied to the larger French economy through subsidies and trade links.
- Fishing and forestry are the country’s most important economic activities.
- Its reserves of tropical hardwood support an expanding sawmill industry that provides sawn timber for export.
- The population is largely concentrated in coastal areas.
- Rice and manioc are the major crops grown but the country is heavily dependent on food imports.
- Illegal forestry is limited, but illegal gold mining is a major threat.
Total territorial area: 916,445 kmē
- Between 1990 and 2005, Venezuela officially lost approximately 43,100 km2 of its rainforest cover.
- In 2006, President Hugo Chavez announced plans to build a controversial 5,000-km long gas pipeline that would carry natural gas. Environmentalists fear that this project could damage the rainforest by polluting waterways and creating roads that would attract developers and poor farmers.
- Another significant threat to the rainforests of Venezuela is the mining industry.
Total territorial area: 1,285,220 kmē
- In Peru the Amazon rainforest covers approximately 60% of the territory. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that between 2,240 km2 and 3,000 km2 of the forest is destroyed each year. This is a low rate compared to neighbouring countries.
- Most of this deforestation is the result of subsistence agriculture, which can largely be attributed to the migration of farmers from the highlands. These farmers take advantage of Peru's land-tenure law which gives citizens ownership rights once they have occupied the land for five years.
- Deforestation is also increasingly the result of activities like logging, commercial agriculture, mining, gas and oil operations, and road construction.
Total territorial area: 1,098,581 kmē
- In the 1990s Bolivia registered high deforestation rates after the government granted some 20 million hectares to timber companies. Large swathes of forest were also cleared for soybean and coca cultivation.
- WWF says that in the past decade Bolivia has become a world leader in promoting sustainable forest management by labelling wood that has been harvested from a well-managed forest. Using this process Bolivia has certified more than two million hectares of forest.
- Threats to Bolivia's remaining rainforest come from oil and gas development, commercial agricultural expansion, subsistence agriculture, fuel wood collection and land-clearance to create cattle pasture.
- Bolivia is the twelfth most biodiverse country on Earth with 2,194 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles, and more than 17,000 species of plants.
Total territorial area: 256,370 kmē
Estimated deforestation per year: 2,964 km2
- Ecuador has the highest area deforested every year after Brazil.
- Official figures estimate that it has lost more than 56% of its total forest.
- Deforestation is mainly due to agricultural expansion, oil exploration, logging and road building.
- Despite its small area, Ecuador is the eighth most biodiverse country on Earth; it has almost 20,000 species of plants, over 1,500 species of birds, more than 840 species of reptiles and amphibians and 341 species of mammals.
Total territorial area: 1,141,748
- Deforestation in Colombia results primarily from small-scale agricultural activities, logging, mining, energy development, infrastructure construction, large-scale agriculture, and the cocaine trade.
- In the highlands, an ongoing battle over coca cultivation has had a significant impact on forest cover. Colombia is a leading producer of coca the plant that provides the main ingredient of cocaine. Researchers believe that 35% of the 90,000 hectares of coca is grown in the Amazon.
- Despite its relatively small size, Colombia is the second most biologically diverse country on Earth and its rich biodiversity is increasingly threatened.
Sources:Rhett Butler, mongabay.com WWF