Published:  12:08 AM, 09 September 2019

Fires in Amazon rainforest threaten earth

Fires in Amazon rainforest threaten earth

Fire outbreaks in Amazon rainforest have put the environmental nature on earth under a grim threat. Amazon is the largest evergreen forest on earth. This rainforest occupies 7.4 million square kilometers across Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Columbia, Suriname and Guyana.

This rainforest purifies one billion ton carbon dioxide every year and emits pure oxygen into the air. Amazon gives out 10% of the whole oxygen of the entire world. If this forest is destroyed it will jeopardize the existence of human beings, wild animals and birds on earth.

Most of the countries hardly have any concern for the wellbeing of environmental resources. All countries are busy with GDP growth, development, infrastructural projects etcetera. However, the hazards being caused to Amazon rainforest are ominous signs for the whole world.

Fires in the Amazon basin have provoked international outrage over the destruction of one of the world's most important tropical forests and the seeming unwillingness on the part of Brazilian authorities to do anything about it.

President Jair Bolsonaro, whose term began in January, has frequently been singled out as playing a key role in the Amazon's deforestation, but the fires ravaging Brazil's rainforest are nothing new. What these fires vividly illustrate is how global dynamics of economic development have propelled processes of deforestation for the narrow purpose of securing global supply chains and maximizing the profits of transnational corporations.

Nearly half of the world's tropical forests can be found in the Amazon basin, a huge expanse of territory encompassing eight states, mostly Brazil. More than 2 million square miles (roughly two-thirds the size of the continental United States) is covered by dense rainforest, where hundreds of thousands of animal and tree species thrive, making it the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet.

The Amazon is also an important regulator of atmospheric CO2 in the global carbon cycle. About 25 percent of carbon emissions are absorbed by terrestrial ecosystems, and the Amazon, being one of the world's largest carbon sinks, plays a critical role. If deforestation increases past a speculated "tipping point," and that terrestrial sink is weakened or lost, the rate of global warming will accelerate, threatening the fabric of human civilization on a planetary scale.

While Brazil seems to be the focus of the recent fires making headlines, unhelped by Brazil's reactionary, far-right leader, who has so far been unwilling to accept international assistance, there are currently fires raging all over the world. In every region where tropical forests are under threat - in Peru and Bolivia, and in the Congo basin, in Angola and Zambia - fires are burning, many as big or bigger than the ones in Brazil.

Fire season across equatorial regions will continue until next spring, and similar fires will burn across Southeast Asia in Cambodia, Laos, and Indonesia, as they do every year.

Most of these fires are started by smallholder farmers or ranchers who are either clearing new tracts of jungle for pasture or re-clearing their previously deforested plots for continued use, employing slash-and-burn agricultural techniques. Some of those burns get out of control, resulting in the widely reported wildfires.

In Brazil, the most intense fires are concentrated in the state of Rondonia, which borders Bolivia in the southwest portion of the Amazon forest. Like much of the Brazilian Amazon, Rondonia was settled by the Brazilian state relatively recently.

As these development efforts were underway, rural agricultural workers were being expelled from the land all across Brazil due to increased agricultural modernization, whereby large-scale mechanized production of a few cash crops replaced traditional practices that were smaller scale and more labor intensive.

The reduced demand for agricultural workers, combined with the high price of land that was increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, left the rural poor with no choice but to leave. This process came to be known as the "rural exodus" and resulted in the swelling of populations of major cities throughout Brazil.

As the favelas on the peripheries of cities rapidly expanded and social strife skyrocketed, the military regime sought to redirect the migrations of displaced agricultural workers into the Amazon. Deforestation across the Amazon basin followed domestic and international financing of highway infrastructure, which systematically penetrated heavily forested areas for development.

Brazil constructed several highways into the jungle, including the Trans-Amazonian Highway (BR-230), which runs from the Atlantic coast west across the Amazon, terminating in Porto Velho, the capital of the state of Rondonia.

From Porto Velho, another highway (BR-364) was constructed that runs southward, cutting directly through the state of Rondonia and connecting that portion of the Amazon forest to more populous regions of Brazil to the southeast. Along with these new roads, the national government provided various financial incentives to migrants willing to resettle in the Amazon, including land ownership.

Highway BR-364 has been the subject of numerous scholarly studies because of its clear relationship with deforestation in Rondonia. Although not initially paved and remaining virtually impassable during the rainy season, in the late 1970s the military dictatorship sought international financing to pave and extend BR-364 as a means to further exploit the region's resources.

The idea was to attract smallholder farmers to Rondonia, thereby settling the Amazon, increasing its economic output by dramatically escalating agricultural production for export, and simultaneously relieving population pressures in the densely populated cities.

Given the fiscal crisis of the Brazilian government, however, the project would have been impossible without the assistance of the World Bank, which provided nearly half a billion dollars in loans. By 1980, Rondonia's population quadrupled, and by the late 1990s over a quarter of Rondonia's forest had been cleared.

Globally, all deforestation occurs within five kilometers of a road or waterway. Before the construction of BR-364, primary forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon was under 1 percent. According to the World Resources Institute, deforestation in Rondonia is slightly down from its peak in the 1990s, but since 2001, more than 4 million hectares of tree cover has been lost there, concentrated most highly along the BR-364 corridor.

Although it is widely understood that road construction in forested areas inevitably leads to land-use change, likely the desired outcome, the World Bank funds similar projects all over the world, with comparable results in terms of deforestation and impact on indigenous communities.

Every year the World Bank and other international financial institutions collaborate with countries to develop forested territories in order to boost domestic production for export, and this development requires a reliable road network. For fiscal year 2018, the World Bank Group committed more than $3 billion to the transport sector, much of it to Latin America, where rates of tropical deforestation are the highest in the world.

Besides leading to increased tree loss by provoking agricultural expansion, this activity fragments fragile, biodiverse ecosystems and displaces indigenous communities. Controversial World Bank road projects have been identified in Bolivia, Mozambique, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Often, the rationale provided by World Bank officials is that these regions require improved road infrastructure in order to develop their economies, which is true - but they need not pave the way to deforestation.

In short, those countries that are described as "less developed" or "developing" by World Bank technocrats are unable to escape their position of dependence by merely leveraging their comparative advantage, i.e., by producing primary commodities for export and importing expensive goods manufactured elsewhere. This situation is further exacerbated by the increasing dominance of information technologies and services by powerful nations in North America and Western Europe.

What is to be done? In confronting this crisis, we must address the underlying dynamics that are driving the processes of deforestation. In Brazil, the highly unequal distribution of productive agricultural land is one of the principal factors that has driven dispossessed migrants into the Amazon.

Egalitarian agrarian reform - a long-standing, unfulfilled demand of rural populations - would be an important means of restructuring the social system in a way that would enable smallholder farmers to produce goods on productive land that doesn't border the Amazon.

More broadly speaking, the hegemonic norms of economic development, constantly reinforced by the projects and policies financed by international institutions such as the World Bank, positively encourages the continued destruction of all rainforests, not just the Amazon.

When production of primary commodities at the lowest possible price is the overriding imperative guiding the global economic system, roads will continue to be paved through the planet's pristine wildernesses - roads that connect new paper mills and mines to markets, that service oil and gas pipelines, and, above all, that facilitate agricultural development in and around forests, the single most important activity driving deforestation. Profound pressure must be brought to bear on the basic structure of our global economic system if these fires are to be squelched.

In place of conventional market-based development schemes, community-based institutions would go a long way to guarding against continued deforestation and the fires they bring. Securing land rights for indigenous communities and allowing for their self-governance, community-based forestry has long been understood to be one of the best land-management regimes, successfully leading to decreased deforestation in places like Nepal and Indonesia.

People's rat-race for profits has led to the deadly fires in Amazon rainforest. The perils of Amazon rainforest endanger everyone on earth. Communist parties of the whole world should come up to fight for preserving natural resources with immediate effect.

The writer is President, Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB).

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