- BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil said on Thursday it was stopping all new permits
for clearing land in the Amazon River basin, a day after reporting that
the rate at which the world's biggest rain forest is being destroyed jumped
nearly 30 percent last year.
- The Environment Ministry said it would
review all existing permits to cut down trees in the region, pursue irregularities
in court and compile a list of cleared areas covering more than about 5,000
acres, where it would "intervene immediately" to fight the "champions
- The announcement was made in a statement,
and no one was available for comment at the ministry.
- But an official at the Brazilian Environment
Institute, which is responsible for overseeing the Amazon, told Reuters
the move was a response to preliminary data, announced on Wednesday, showing
that an area more than half the size of Belgium -- 6,500 square miles --
was totally cleared in 1998.
- "This might help slow down the rate
of deforestation," said the official, who asked not to be named. "It
will depend on how long the suspension lasts and whether the government
really brings people breaking the law to book."
- The Brazilian government has announced
an array of measures over the last few years in a bid to bring the destruction
of the Amazon region under control, but to little effect.
- The latest move comes just a few weeks
after Jose Sarney Filho, the son of a former president, took over the Environment
Ministry with promises to come to grips with deforestation.
- The figures announced on Wednesday represented
a 27 percent increase from 1997 -- when the equivalent of 5,000 soccer
fields of jungle were lost every day, according to one estimate -- but
were slightly lower than in 1996.
- The 1998 figures, however, did not include
damage from the massive fires that raged between January and March in Roraima
state on Brazil's border with Venezuela, destroying as much as 4,250 square
miles of forest and savanna, according to separate government estimates.
- Environmental groups, speaking before
Thursday's announcement by the Environment Ministry, said the numbers showed
Brazil had to act quickly to stop deforestation from soaring.
- "We weren't surprised at the numbers,"
said Garo Batmanian, executive director of the World Wide Fund for Nature
- He said several anti-deforestation measures
announced amid fanfare by the government had been implemented only partially
or not at all.
- A plan announced by President Fernando
Henrique Cardoso last April to protect 10 percent of the Amazon rain forest
has been put on hold after $300,000 in World Bank funding was delayed by
Brazilian government paperwork.
- "But the real problem is that the
policy-makers have not yet understood that the environment has to be a
factor in all its policies," Batmanian said.
- "There's no point in the environment
minister flying about in a helicopter to crack down on deforestation if
the land reform minister is settling landless people right in the middle
of the jungle," he said.
- Joao Paulo Capobianco, executive secretary
of the Socio-environmental Institute in Sao Paulo, said deforestation might
rise again in 1999, since Brazil last year relaxed rules on the use of
fire to clear land and reduced the amount of land farmers must keep as
- Those changes were made in August and
November, so their impact will be felt fully this year, Capobianco said.
- "As well as failing to control deforestation,
the government is taking measures that actually contradict its attempts
to preserve the Amazon," he said.