Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • Amazon at risk from development plans

[BOGOTÁ] The Amazon jungle is at risk from planned developments in transportation, energy and telecommunication, warn scientists.

A report, published last week (1 October), by Conservation International scientist Timothy Killeen, addresses the plans of the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America (IIRSA).

The IIRSA is an initiative of twelve South American countries to connect regions isolated by the Amazon wilderness to improve trade throughout the continent and make agricultural commodities, biofuels, and industrial minerals more competitive in international markets.

It plans to invest in highways linking the Pacific and the Atlantic coasts and improve river transportation, hydroelectric dams and telecommunication in the Amazon.

"Unfortunately, the IIRSA has been designed without adequate consideration of its potential environmental and social impacts and thus represents a latent threat to these ecosystems and cultures," states Killeen in his report.

Building roads in the Amazon will mean deforestation, immigration and new settlements, as well as unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and the conversion of natural ecosystems for agriculture or industry, Juan Carlos Espinosa, sector policy officer of the World Wildlife Fund Colombia, told SciDev.Net.

Carlos Rodriguez, programme team leader of Tropenbos International in Colombia, a nongovernmental organisation that encourages better use and governance of tropical forests, said that one of the most important issues highlighted in Killeen's report is the need to carry out thorough environmental impact studies.

Killeen writes, "No environmental assessment has addressed the link between improved highways, increased deforestation, and carbon emissions, nor how deforestation might impact local and continental precipitation patterns."

He proposes the development of 'strategic environmental assessments' to ensure the active participation of local communities in identifying both environmental and social impacts.

Killeen advocates environmentally friendly solutions, such as using the intact Amazon forest to generate carbon credits; planting biofuel crops such as sugar cane on the 65 million hectares of already deforested land; and making use of the Amazon's abundant water for fish farming.

The title of Killeen's report is 'A Perfect Storm in the Amazon Wilderness: Development and Conservation in the Context of the Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America'.