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Deforestation in the Xingu Advances Under the Bolsonaro Government and Jeopardizes the ‘Green Shield’ Against Desertification of the Amazon

Deforestation in the Xingu Advances Under the Bolsonaro Government and Jeopardizes the 'Green Shield' Against Desertification of the Amazon
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The results of three years of monitoring by Sirad X, the Xingu+ Network’s deforestation detection system, reveal an intensification of conflicts and disputes over land and natural resources in the Xingu Protected Areas. Deforestation, illegal mining, fires, land grabbing, and the impacts of large infrastructure projects threaten the Xingu and its people [Click here and download the report “Xingu Under Bolsonaro”].

In the last three years, deforestation within protected areas has varied from 30% in 2018 to 34% in 2020. This process reveals the displacement of deforestation within indigenous territories and traditional populations, a trend that became evident in 2019, the first year of the Bolsonaro government, when there was a 38% increase in deforestation within Indigenous Lands and 50% within Conservation Units in the basin.

Between 2018 and 2020, a period that coincides with the election and first half of President Jair Bolsonaro’s term, 513.5 thousand hectares were deforested in the Xingu basin. The area is equivalent to 6 times the size of New York City (USA). Currently, 149 trees are cut down every minute.

Instead of executing measures to protect the Xingu, the government promotes a scenario of total impunity through speeches favoring the unconstitutional reduction of indigenous lands and the legalization of destructive activities such as mining, as well as weakening enforcement actions.

The break in connectivity of the Xingu Corridor puts the Amazon at risk

Groups of lan grabbers are advancing over protected areas in the region of Iriri, between the municipalities of Novo Progresso and São Félix do Xingu, in the state of Pará. Deforestation threatens to cut the forest strip in half, putting an end to the connectivity of this large forest mass.

And far from being an isolated event, this could impoverish the forest, affecting thousands of species that depend on its connectivity and further weakening its ability to resist the changes around it.

Break in connectivity evolution map (Click the photo to enlarge)
Break in connectivity evolution map (Click the photo to enlarge).

It is estimated that 17% of the original cover of the Amazon has already been cleared, bringing the forest closer to the “point of no return. That is, the moment when degradation reaches a limit, after which the forest will no longer be able to exist as we know it today, giving way to drier and more vulnerable vegetation, unable to continue its function as a rainfall provider, essential for all of South America. The destruction of the Xingu Corridor could accelerate this process, and its protection is therefore essential to guarantee the forest, its people, and the planet’s climate.

Deforestation Explosion

Areas at risk of disrupted connectivity (Click to enlarge).
Areas at risk of disrupted connectivity (Click to enlarge).

Between 2018 and 2020, at least 513,500 hectares of deforestation were detected in the Xingu watershed.

The rates reflect the expectation in that year of the relaxation of environmental laws and the precariousness of policies to combat deforestation, as well as the effective decrease in inspection.

In the Indigenous Lands, 66.5 thousand ha of deforestation were detected in the three years of monitoring. Starting in October 2018, deforestation began to intensify in some territories, such as the Cachoeira Seca, Ituna Itatá, Apyterewa, and Kayapó Indigenous Lands. In 2019, this trend was consolidated in other areas and there was an explosion in deforestation, the result of invasions, timber theft, illegal mining, and land grabbing.


Photo Credits: Before Image: PlanetLabs (Mapbiomas) TI Kayapó
After Image: PlanetLabs (Mapbiomas) TI Kayapó

By 2020, deforestation within Conservation Units and Indigenous Lands decreased by 6% and 49%, respectively, while in their surroundings it increased by 23%. The reduction in deforestation within the protected areas occurred after concentrated Ibama enforcement actions in critical indigenous lands of the basin, such as the Cachoeira Seca IT and Ituna Itatá IT, whose rates showed a drastic reduction in early 2020. The unjustified cancellation of the inspection actions last year, however, threatens to reverse this trend and deforestation can grow again.

For example, from the 3 hectares deforested in May 2020 in the Bacajá Trench, for example, deforestation jumped to 411 hectares in December, an increase of 12,980%. In the following months, between September and December, another 1,847 hectares were deforested in this IT. In Apyterewa, on the other hand, deforestation increased by 393% in the month following the suspension of operations and continued to grow: between July and December, 5,800 hectares were cleared, 1,287% or almost 14 times more than the total deforested between January and June.


Photo Credits: Before Image: PlanetLabs (Mapbiomas) TI Trincheira Bacajá
After Image: PlanetLabs (Mapbiomas) TI Trincheira Bacajá

Xingu Corridor of Protected Areas: diversity, water and a shield against destruction

The Xingu River basin covers an area of approximately 53 million hectares in the states of Pará and Mato Grosso and encompasses a great diversity of people and ecosystems, from the dense forests and floodplains of the Amazon biome to areas of typical Cerrado vegetation. The basin contains one of the largest continuous mosaics of indigenous lands and conservation units on the planet: the Xingu Corridor of Protected Areas.

With 23 indigenous lands and nine conservation units, the Corridor is considered one of the regions with the greatest socio-biodiversity in the world, sheltering 26 indigenous peoples and hundreds of riverside communities. For centuries, these traditional peoples have managed and protected their forests, which contain an immense array of plant and animal species, some of which are still unknown to science. With an area of more than 26.5 million hectares, the Corridor plays a crucial role in protecting the Amazon and the climate.

Illegal mining is one of the main vectors of pressure in the Xingu. In the photo, illegal mining in the Kayapó IT.
Illegal mining is one of the main vectors of pressure in the Xingu. In the photo, illegal mining in the Kayapó IT.

The region provides invaluable environmental services to the planet, from protecting rivers and springs to regulating the climate at local, regional, and global levels. Its vast forests represent one of the largest and most stable carbon stocks in the eastern Amazon, storing approximately 16 billion tons of CO2.

It is estimated that its trees release into the atmosphere, through evapotranspiration and the production of volatile organic compounds that act as rain condensation nuclei, from 880 million to 1 billion tons of water per day, a volume similar to what the Xingu River discharges into the Amazon over the same period.

The water is transported by the so-called “flying rivers” to the central-western, southeastern, and southern regions of Brazil, providing rain for cities and fields, essential for maintaining agricultural activity.

This article was translated from Portuguese to English by The Brazil Daily Mail.
You can read the original article by clicking here.

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