Deforestation of the Amazon River Basin
Deforestationof the Amazon River Basin
TheAmazon River Basin is a huge portion of the South American continentthat is drained by the Amazon River and its tributaries. The basin isover 2.9 million square miles in area. It covers around 40% of thecontinent and traverses Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela,Suriname, Guyana, Bolivia, and the French Guiana. Almost 2.1 millionsquare miles of the basin is covered by the Amazon Rainforest. Thisdense tropical forest is the biggest rainforest in the world. Over60% of the Amazon River Basin is found in Brazil.
Forestsare significant the world over as they produce oxygen as well asproviding homes for wildlife and people. The WWF has stated thatmajority of the world’s endangered animal species are found inforests and that more than 1.6 billion people are heavily dependenton products obtained from forests, such as housing, food, water,attire, and medicine. Despite these benefits, forests are threatenedby deforestation. Deforestation happens in many ways, includingfires, tree-felling for agricultural purposes, ranching and urbandevelopment, and logging for timber. This paper analyzes the causesand impacts deforestation in the Amazon River Basin, together withwhat has been done to reduce it.
ABRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEFORESTATION IN THE AMAZON RIVER BASIN
From1978, the forest cover in the Amazon Basin has reduced by over289,000 square miles across the 9 countries it covers. In the firsthalf of the 20thcentury deforestation in the Amazon Basin was mainly done for thepurposes of planting crops for subsistence purposes. However, thischanged in the second half of the century. Industrialization and anincreased demand for large-scale agriculture led to rapiddeforestation. From the early 2000s, there was a fall in thedeforestation activities in the Brazilian Amazon Basin by around 80%(Butler). Between 1980 and 2004, 7,700 square miles of rainforestwere cleared every year. In 2014 this figure had fallen to around1,850 square miles (The World Wide Fund for Nature). The figuresbelow show how deforestation has occurred in the Amazon:
Figure1: Deforestation in the Amazon Basin up to 2006 (The World Wide Fundfor Nature)
Figure2: Trends of deforestation for different Amazonian countries from2001-2012 (Butler)
FACTORSACCELERATING DEFORESTATION OF THE AMAZON RIVER BASIN
Thereare several reasons behind the huge deforestation activities in theAmazon River Basin. These are:
Cattleranching. Thisis the major reason behind deforestation in the Amazon Basin.Official figures from the Brazilian government indicated that 38% ofthe deforestation that took place between 1966-1975 was because oflarge-scale cattle ranching (Butler). Huge tracts of forests wereconverted into cattle ranches. This figure has risen to almost 70%,with the bulk of the beef produced targeted at urban markets, andleather and other cattle-derived products destined for foreignmarkets (Butler).
Thesettlement at the basin and consequent subsistence agriculture. Inthe Amazon Basin, small-scale agriculture has regularly been promotedby different government settlement plans aimed at reducing urbanpopulation pressures by giving rural land to the poor. For instance,in the 1970s, the Brazilian leadership embarked on an ambitioussettlement plan based on the 2,000-mile Trans-Amazonian Highway. Thishighway bisected the Amazon, and opened rainforest lands tosettlement and enabled the harvesting of timber and minerals. Underthe program, settlers were given 250 acres of forest land and easyaccess to agricultural loans (Butler).
Commercialagriculture. Followingthe development and commercialization of a new soybean varietydeveloped to thrive in rainforest climates, soy became largelyresponsible for deforestation that occurred in the Brazilian Amazonfrom the 1990s to the mid-2000s. The cultivation soy had direct andindirect impacts on the deforestation: forestlands were convertedinto soy fields, and the growing of soy motivated the construction ofnew highways, pushing up land prices, and motivating small-scalefarmers to migrate deeper into the rainforest (Butler).
Logging.Ideally,logging in the Amazon Basin is supposed to be moderated throughstrict licensing that allows the harvesting of timber from special,designated areas. However, the reality is different in that illegallogging is still rife in Peru and Bolivia (The World Wide Fund forNature). The construction of roads has a positive correlation toillegal logging. Butler indicates that areas that have been loggedare more likely to be settled in comparison to virgin, untouchedrainforests due to the easy access afforded by the logging roads.
Hydroelectricprojects. Numeroushydroelectric projects have led to the damming of huge areas of theAmazon Basin Rainforest. For instance, the Balbina Dam on the UatumãRiver led to the flooding of 920 square miles of rainforest when itsconstruction was completed in 1989 (Vidal). A Guardian news reportindicatedthat the Brazilian government intends to build 40 major dams in theTapajos River on the Amazon Basin by 2024 to deal with the cripplingelectricity shortages witnessed frequently in the country and toboost its industrial output by creating a huge waterway to allow foreasier exportation of soya and other produce to Europe (Vidal). Theconstruction of these dams would lead to massive flooding in therainforest and lead to the dying of many of the rainforest’s uniqueflora.
Mining.TheAmazon Basin rainforest is rich in alluvial gold deposits. Themeandering nature of the Amazonian rivers over millions of years hasled to the depositing of gold on the river ways and on thefloodplains on which rivers once flowed through. The huge size of theAmazon Basin, the length of the Amazon River (4,125 miles), and thepresence of thousands of tributaries feeding the Amazon River meanthat gold deposits occur fairly common (The World Wide Fund forNature). Large-scale mining activities of gold in the Amazon Basinresults in deforestation through the cutting down of trees on theland on which there are gold deposits and through the construction ofroads which in turn open up remote forest regions to small-scaleminers and settlers. These groups of people, in turn, lead to greaterdeforestation when they cut down trees to get wood for building andfuel purposes (Butler).
IMPACTOF THE DEFORESTATION OF THE AMAZON RIVER BASIN
TheAmazon Basin Rainforest is not just a collection of trees, it is anintegral part of the global ecosystem, and it offers a home todiverse forms of life on the planet. It also plays a critical part onthe carbon and water cycles that are important to life. Deforestationof this rainforest sets off several changes that influence life onthe South American continent and around the world:
Increasedemission of greenhouse gases. Plantsabsorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for use duringphotosynthesis. In this process, the gas is converted into carbon andoxygen. The plants store the carbon and release oxygen into theatmosphere. Carbon dioxide is largely responsible for the risingtemperatures on earth, which in turn contribute to changing weatherpatterns and increased occurrences of extreme weather events. The WWFstatesthat tropical forests in the world hold over 240 billion tons ofcarbon (The World Wide Fund for Nature). Cutting down of trees causesthe trees to release this carbon as carbon dioxide. Over 31% of theworld’s tropical rainforests are in the Amazon River Basin, andbecause of this, they hold 90-140 billion tons of carbon (The WorldWide Fund for Nature). That the Amazon River Basin has lost 17% ofits forest cover through deforestation means that it has released asignificant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere therebycontributing to the planet’s rising temperatures (The World WideFund for Nature).
Changesin water cycles. Eachyear the Amazon River Basin rainforest receives between 1,500mm -3,000mm of rainfall (The World Wide Fund for Nature). Half of thisrainfall occurs through evapotranspiration (this is how plants losethrough transpiration, and from the soil through evaporation).Cutting down trees results in less water available forevapotranspiration, resulting in less rainfall (The World Wide Fundfor Nature). This will alter the climate throughout the whole regiongiven the huge size of the Amazon River Basin.
Soilerosion. Treesare important in anchoring fertile soil together. The rainforest’scanopy also shelters the soil, preventing it from being moved by windand rainwater. Through deforestation in the Amazon River Basin, thesoil becomes loose and can be more easily moved by wind andrainwater, especially in sloped terrains (Merten and Minella 42). Theplanting of crops such as soybean, coffee, and wheat on clearedforest lands does not reduce soil erosion since these plants haveshallow roots that do not anchor the soil like the trees would(Merten and Minella 43).
REDUCINGDEFORESTATION IN THE AMAZON BASIN RAINFOREST
Withover 60% of the Amazon River Basin rainforest, Brazil is at theforefront of measures aimed at reducing deforestation in the AmazonRiver Basin. The country’s deforestation rates for 2015 areone-sixth that of 2004 (Fearnside 510). It has achieved thisthrough:
Creatingprotected areas. TheBrazilian government has classified over half of the Brazilian Amazonas being either national parks or indigenous lands. By doing so ithas protected over half of its rainforest from logging (630,000square miles) (Fearnside 509). When a new government took office in2003 it promised to curb deforestation. It did so by setting asidemore land in protected areas and recognizing the Amazonian indigenouspeople’s land rights. This recognition guarantees the involvementof the locals in preserving the rainforest (Tollefson 142).
Industrycooperation. In2006, two of the biggest buyers of Brazilian soybeans froze theirprocurement of soybeans obtained from recently cleared forest landafter increasing political pressure. This resulted in the passing ofa national moratorium that banned the growing of soybeans on landthat had been cleared after 2006, thereby discouraging deforestation.The cattle industry followed suit in 2009 (Tollefson 143). It led toslaughterhouses declining to source their cattle from ranches locatedwithin 6 miles of deforestation zones.
Inspite of the huge deforestation threats facing the Amazon River Basinrainforest, it still has one of the healthiest and intact forestcovers in the world. After a period of huge deforestation, Brazil putin place measures aimed at reversing the trend. For the last 10years, these measures have begun bearing fruit. The other countriesneighboring Brazil and in whose borders the Amazon River Basin existsshould emulate Brazil in trying to lower their deforestation ratessince the benefits of cleaner air and favorable climate conditionswill be felt by people in the entire South American continent formany years to come.
Butler,Rhett. AmazonDestruction.26 1 2017. Web. 6 4 2017.
Fearnside,Philip. "What is at stake for Brazilian Amazonia in the climatenegotiations." ClimaticChange(2013): 509-519. Print.
Merten,Gustavo and Jean Minella. "The expansion of Brazilianagriculture: Soil erosion scenarios." InternationalSoil and Water Conservation Research(2013): 37-48. Print.
TheWorld Wide Fund for Nature. Aboutthe Amazon.2017. Web. 6 4 2017.
TheWorld Wide Fund for Nature. ForA Living Amazon.2017. Web. 6 4 2017.
Tollefson,Jeff. "A Light in the Forest: Brazil`s Fight to Save the Amazonand Climate-Change Diplomacy." ForeignAffairs(2013): 141-151. Print.
Vidal,John. Brazil`sgiant dams risk destroying heart of the Amazon, says Greenpeace.15 6 2016. Web. 6 4 2017.
YaleUniversity. TheAmazon Basin Forest.2017. Web. 6 4 2017.
No related posts.