Accelerating Amazon Rainforest Loss Threatens Indigenous Peoples


The world's forests are shrinking every year. And Brazil is the epicenter of the phenomenon. According to World Wildlife Fund, more than a quarter of the Amazon rainforest will be treeless by 2030 if the speed at which they fall is maintained.

If nothing happens, it is even estimated that 40% of this forest unique in the world will be razed by 2050.

Beyond the material and environmental consequences, this deforestation threatens certain human rights, including the right to life, bodily integrity, reasonable quality of life and dignity of marginalized communities. Brazil is one of the most worrying cases in this regard.

PhD candidate in political science, my research interests focus on climate justice, energy transition, green economy and international environmental policies.

Chainsaw Massacre

Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) ruled that these communities fully possess the “…right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive relationship with their lands, territories, coastal waters and seas and other resources which belong to them or which they have traditionally occupied and used…”.

This article is not respected by the Brazilian State in the Amazon.

Aerial drone view of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Trees illegally cut and burned to open up land for agriculture and livestock in Jamanxim National Forest, Para, Brazil
The coming to power of the government led by Jair Bolsonaro has contributed to the acceleration of deforestation in the Amazon, threatening several indigenous peoples in this region.

Although the country was committed to significantly reducing deforestation and limiting clearcutting to 3 km2, data from Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organization, shows that chainsaws razed almost 13 km² of tropical forests virgins, making communities of indigenous peoples even more vulnerable.

The rate of deforestation in the territories where these communities live has increased by 34% between 2018 and 2019, despite the country's commitment in 2009 to reduce it by 80%. This leads to forced displacement over hundreds of kilometres, major health problems and a loss of bearings. According to Human Rights Watch, these are close to 13 km² of virgin forest Amazonian region that were clearcut between August 2020 and July 2021, a 22% increase in clearcut area compared to the same period the previous year.

This unfortunatly coincides with the accession to power of Jair Bolsonaro. Just for the month of January 2022, we record the destruction of 430 km2 of tropical forest, area five times higher than in January 2021.

Threats and assassinations

Multiple abuses have been recorded since the beginnings of colonization, including the illegal encroachment of the Brazilian state on officially indigenous territories. But under the current President Bolsonaro, the criminal networks accentuating the deforestation of the Amazon have multiplied. Organized crime sees the large timber and agricultural industries as opportunities to move and launder money. He illegally exploits forest lands and then hides drug in timber shipments to Europe or Asia.

Experts call it “narcodeforestation” this illegal phenomenon. Many illegal gold and mineral mining sites also operate in the Amazon, and the companies that run them often threaten the indigenous community. Munduruku who lives there.

Throughout the Amazon, people and activists resisting these cuts are threatened, harassed and often killed. In 2019, the NGO Global Witness recorded 24 deaths of environmental and territorial defenders, almost all of which occurred in the Amazon. Brazil thus finds itself in third position among the most lethal countries with regard to environmental defenders, after the Colombia and the Philippines.

The news reminds us of this: Environmental and indigenous rights defender Bruno Araujo Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips have been missing since June 5 in the Amazon in a notorious region " without faith or law ". They had received death threats shortly before, according to the local organization that went looking for them. Brazilian police said on Sunday that search teams had discovered their personal belongings and Monday, that bodies have been spotted in the area of ​​their disappearance. However, they have not yet been formally identified.

boat on a river in the amazon
Police navigate the Itaquai River during a search for British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Araujo Pereira in the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory in Atalaia do Norte, Amazonas state, Australia Brazil, June 10, 2022. Phillips and Pereira were last seen on June 5.
(AP Photo/Edmar Barros) 

Furthermore, the number of deaths attributable to the defense of the environment and territory could be greatly underestimated, since the data are not available and transparent for all countries.

Women and children, the main victims of deforestation

Un United Nations (UN) report reveals that a strong correlation exists between worsening climate change and the deterioration of human rights around the world.

Deforestation disproportionately affects indigenous communities, especially children and women. It increases the pressure that already rests largely on the shoulders of women to feed their children and families while limiting access to essential products, including medicines.

Indeed, their health depends on access to natural medicinal products found in biodiversity. The Amazon is a major reservoir of substances used in the manufacture of several pharmaceutical products available on the South American continent. Still today, nearly 80% of the population developing countries rely on medicinal natural products for their primary basic care. In the majority of communities, women are also responsible for cultivating the land and transporting and treating water.

aboriginal people on stair steps
Indigenous people observe police activities during the search for British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous affairs expert Bruno Araujo Pereira. Deforestation disproportionately affects indigenous people.
(AP Photo/Edmar Barros) 

Children are equally at risk. For example, a study carried out in sub-Saharan African countries shows a link between the loss of forest cover and the deterioration of the health conditions of the youngest. Malnutrition, caused by reduced availability of fruits, vegetables and nuts, can affect children's growth. Children's exposure to smoke multiple forest fires in the Amazon is also likely to cause respiratory problems and even more serious pathologies in children.

The more we cultivate, the more trees we cut

Deforestation in Brazil offers a taste of the impact that climate change will have on human rights, both in Latin America and elsewhere in the world. In addition, due to the war in Ukraine, the largest country in South America has make up for the lack of food resources in world markets, such as wheat and grain.

Although the contribution from Brazil be appreciated by the countries most affected by the food crisis resulting from the conflict in Ukraine such as the Sudan, Pakistan and Haiti, the increase in production risks dangerously accelerating deforestation and an increase in human rights violations can be expected.

One thing is certain, one of the lungs of our planet is seriously ill and time is running out.

Felix Bherer-Magnan, PhD student in political science, Laval University

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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