Nearly 40% of Amazon critically damaged by human activity, drought

WASHINGTON (AFP): Over a third of the Amazon rainforest has been degraded due to human activity and drought. Without action, conditions could take a turn for the worst as the critically important ecosystem is crying out for protection, researchers said.

In a study published in the journal Science, the researchers said the damage done to the forest, which spans nine countries, is significantly greater than previously known.

For the study, they examined the impact of fire, logging, drought and changes to habitat along the forest borders – what they called edge effects.

Most previous research into the Amazon ecosystem has focused on the consequences of deforestation.

The study found that fire, timber extraction, and edge effects degraded at least 5.5% of all remaining Amazonian forests, or 364,748 square kilometers (140,830 square miles), between 2001 and 2018.

But when the effects of drought are factored in, the degraded area increases to 2.5 million square kilometers, or 38% of the remaining Amazonian forests.

An aerial view shows deforestation near a forest on the border between Amazonia and Cerrado in Nova Xavantina, Mato Grosso state, Brazil, July 28, 2021. (Reuters Photo)
An aerial view shows a deforested area during an operation to combat deforestation near Uruara, Para State, Brazil, Jan. 21, 2023. (Reuters Photo)

“Extreme droughts have become increasingly frequent in the Amazon as land-use change and human-induced climate change progress, affecting tree mortality, fire incidence, and carbon emissions to the atmosphere,” the researchers said.

“Forest fires intensify during drought years,” they said, warning of the dangers of “much larger mega-fires” in the future.

The researchers from Brazil’s Universidade Estadual de Campinas and other institutions used satellite images and data from 2001 to 2018 to reach their conclusions.

In a separate study published in Science of the human impacts on the Amazon, researchers from the University of Louisiana Lafayette and elsewhere called for action.

“The Amazon is perched to transition rapidly from a largely natural to degraded and transformed landscape, under the combined pressures of regional deforestation and global climate change,” they said.

“The changes are happening much too rapidly for Amazonian species, peoples, and ecosystems to respond adaptively,” they said. “Policies to prevent the worst outcomes are known and must be enacted immediately.

“To fail the Amazon is to fail the biosphere, and we fail to act at our peril,” they said.

Brazil’s new president, leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has pledged to end deforestation of the Amazon by 2030.