By Henrique Saunier
Translated by Felipe Sá
A new study released this Monday (01/21) indicates that deforestation in the Amazon might increase during the next years if BR-319 and other roads connected to it are built. As a solution to these issues, researchers that sign the publication point out that public policies on land use, monitoring infrastructure, governance increase and human resources to manage Conservation Units (UCs, in Portuguese) are indispensable to mitigate and reduce the environmental impacts of the controversial road.
The reconstruction of the road has already been the subject of two studies released by Idesam in 2018. Both are available here (in Portuguese). Under the title “BR-319 as a propeller of deforestation: Simulating the impact of the Manaus-Porto Velho road”, the study presents three distinct scenarios to estimate the region’s degradation evolution until 2100, reaching an increase of almost 1,300% of deforested areas.
The study was introduced during a meeting of the Permanent Forum of Discussion on the Process of Reopening of BR-319, at the headquarters of the Federal Public Ministry (MPF, in Portuguese) and was attended by politicians, environmentalists, representatives of the rural and the military sectors, which contributed to the debate. The researchers defend that appropriate studies on biodiversity be made – including indigenous and fauna factors – to subsidize the creation of legally protected areas, in order to safeguard vulnerable areas of forest that might suffer impact if these planned roads get to be built.
The study was carried out by the Vitória Amazônica Foundation (FVA), the Amazon Research Institute (INPA), Uninorte, the Federal University of Amazonas (UFAM) and it was supported by Idesam.
Essentially, the study shows that BR-319 and its side roads have a substantial impact on deforestation. The publication reports that, until now, the deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has been almost entirely confined to the southern and eastern edges of the forest, known as the “deforestation belt”. A huge piece of forest in the western part of the Amazonas state has been saved due to access barriers, but the roads connected to BR-319 that are planned by the state government would make this area vulnerable.
According to INPA’s researcher, Philip Fearnside, the processes leading to deforestation are many and include different sets of events that would be the causes or vectors, among them land speculation, tax incentives, human migration, rural settlement creation, increases in taxes, export and subsistence productions, population growth, economic fluctuations and infrastructure projects, such as hydroelectric plants and the expansion of the road network.
To Fearnside, the opening of BR-319 has enormous impact potential because it grants access to very large areas, equivalent to about half of what is left of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. As well as the irreversible degradation of the Amazon forest, the researcher also warns that social processes can also get out of control and destroy the forest through its own internal dynamics, no matter what the government has planned. Other concerns that were noticeable in the scientist’s presentation are the political and electoral interests surrounding the reopening of the highway, especially at the state level.
In the assessment of the biologist Marcelo Augusto dos Santos Junior, FVA’s representative who signs the study, the expansion of the road network and the consequences of this facilitated access to native forest areas can lead to disastrous environmental impacts. After some criticism and questioning made by those present at the meeting about the results obtained in the modeling of the study, the biologist highlighted that the publication should not be used to prevent the reopening of the highway, but as a source of information to avoid reaching the projected scenario.
“The reconstruction of the federal highway BR-319 will potentially increase the deforestation of its surroundings and more distant areas, including virgin forest areas that are, until now, inaccessible. The road is important for the work of fire brigades, the rescue of sick people and it is indisputable that education, health and other public facilities must get there, and it is not the road’s fault that it has not yet arrived. The major issue is finding out why these public services did not get there, because the road itself is not going to ensure that”, he reinforces.
The researchers simulated the deforestation expected to take place along the road between the Madeira and Purus rivers and the forest area west of the Purus river, which would be opened by planned state highways. The three scenarios date from 2011 to 2100. The first result, the “Historic Baseline” scenario – which does not consider the construction of the planned roads but the historic rate of the roads in the studied area –, presents a potential increase in deforestation of 603.3% (projection to 2100), equivalent to almost 10 thousand soccer fields.
The “Already Existing Roads” scenario (which also considers the reconstruction of AM-364) indicates an increase of 1,080% in deforestation for the same period, what represents 117.7 thousand km² of deforested area. The third and last scenario, which considers “Planned Roads”, deforestation rates peaked at 1,291%, equivalent to over 19 thousand soccer fields (138.8 thousand km²).
The presentation of the study generated controversy among the representatives of the sectors interested in reopening the process. They alleged lack of impartiality and accused the authors of designing a “catastrophic” scenario, what was refuted by the researchers, who showed that the deforestation projections are still quite conservative.
The commander of the 2nd engineering group of the Brazilian Army, General Marcos Vinícius Melo, joined the Forum meeting for the first time representing the Armed Forces and highlighted that the study does not mean that nothing else is going to be done on the road. “This is a positioning of the researches which I believe should be highly regarded. If we come to the conclusion that BR-319 is going to be paved, our challenge will be to mitigate and avoid what we saw in this projection for 2100. I can not understand how a road that links two capitals is still not paved, but I believe this will happen”, declared General Melo.
BR-319’s physical influence area directly reaches 11 municipalities (Beruri, Borba, Canutama, Careiro Castanho, Careiro da Várzea, Humaitá, Manaquiri, Manaus, Manicoré, Tapauá, and Porto Velho) crossing their territories, still being able of influencing municipalities connected to BR-319 through other roads, such as Lábrea and Autazes. BR-319 has 877 km in length, linking Manaus to Porto Velho. The study covers a total area of 501.1 thousand km².