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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: L’eau et la forêt amazonienne au coeur du Forum social

by Bernard Duraud

Water and the Amazon rainforest at the heart of the World Social Forum.

Translated Thursday 26 February 2009, by Karen Singleton


The WSF [1], gathered at Belém, emphasized the global combat to improve water management and protect the immense tropical rainforest.

One of the objectives promoted by the World Social Forum is “to ensure universal and sustainable access to the collective assets of humanity and nature” and to protect the planet and its resources, “especially water, forests and renewable energy sources”. In deciding to meet in Belém, the capital of the state of Pará (northern Brazil), the WSF could not have chosen a better illustration of global struggle as the conservation of the vast Amazon rainforest is threatened by agro-industry.

The Amazonian problem was quickly put under the spotlight in the form of a dialogue (“The Amazon contacts the world” , “The world tries hard to reply to the Amazon”) concerning not only the climate and its current multiple aspects but also biodiversity, the management of shared resources and natives land rights.

The Amazon forest, the lungs of the planet, is victim of relentless logging. Graça Costa, manager of the Amazon for the Brazilian NGO, FASE [2] believes it is threatened because the market, “in its blindness, seeks to possess and destroy”. As the world’s largest tropical rainforest it covers five and a half million square kilometres, 60% of which are in Brazil, and it is split among 9 South-American countries (Bolivia, - Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, - Peru, Suriname, Venezuela and French Guyana).

But this forest, which shelters the largest reserve of biodiversity in the world – a tenth of all known fauna and more than 40 000 plant species – plays an essential role in the climatic balance of the world, and has already lost 17% of its original area. Every year thousands more square kilometers of forest are cut down (12 000km2 in 2007/2008 in Brazil ; 26 000km2 in 2003/2004) under the pressure of the powerful agricultural industry (intensive soya bean producers), and illegal forest exploitation.

Incriminated : the soya bean producers (including Blairo Maggi [3] in the state of Mato Grosso) and the dominating culture of development in the Brazilian economy. To increase yields the agricultural boundaries of each region encroach unceasingly on the transition forests, those zones of thick vegetation on the edge of the virgin forest. Theoretically these zones are protected by law, but Brazilian Environmental law and the land registry being such as they are represent a godsend for the ‘illegal land-grabbers’ actions : monopolising public land and obtaining false deeds.

In February 2006 the government ratified a law concerning the management of public forests, applicable to all bioclimatic regions, protected and paying concessions, meeting the demands of sustainable exploitation. But here also corruption has remained the best means of having a stake in the logging action. Last December, the government headed by President Lula, in a strong gesture, committed itself to reducing deforestation by 70% by 2018. Brazil is the fourth largest greenhouse gas emitter, responsible for global warming, and deforestation accounts for 75% of these emissions…

Belém is also the capital of a movement for indigenous peoples’ groups who will be represented at WSF. In only the Brazilian part of the Amazon, where 80% of the countries Indians live, they make up not more than 600 000 amongst 25 million people. They live mostly in large protected reserves, but their lands are nonetheless encroached upon by the advancing fronts of agriculture and colonists fleeing misery. This cohabitation brings about conflicts between white farmers and the Indians looking to protect their environment and traditional way of life. The FASE highlights that powerful Brazilian groups, private and multinational, are fighting over the region’s resources, seizing land, destroying fauna and flora and crushing the indigenous way of life “in the name of progress and development”. The NGO believes the protection of the Amazon entails accepting “the challenges of technological innovation” in order to offer a model of development based on sustainable utilisation of the natural resources.

[1World Social Forum from January 27th to February 1st 2009, Belém – Pará – Brazil.

[2FASE - Federacao de Orgaos para Assistencia Social e Educacional. A Brazilian NGO active in the areas of Citizenship / Education / School system
Human Rights / Migrant Rights General.

[3Blairo Maggi is a soya bean plantation farmer and governor of the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil.

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