Deforestation in Brazil was in the first months of this year was consistently higher than in the same period last year.
Photo: ©IASS/ S. Letz

Deforestation could give rise to new epidemics

Brazil is one of the hotspots of the corona pandemic, and the Brazilian Amazon is particularly hard hit. Deforestation rates have risen in the last months due to weak controls because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Encroachment on previously untouched parts of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest could give rise to new transmissible zoonoses, researchers from the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) warned in May 2020.

The virus has overwhelmed the poor healthcare system in Amazonian cities and towns. Indigenous groups are especially vulnerable because the pandemic has opened the floodgates for illegal deforestation and invasion of their territories. 

On 18 May 2020, Brazil had 241 080 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and a total of 16 118 deaths, but the real figures are likely to be much higher. Three quarters of the twenty Brazilian cities with the highest Covid-19 mortality rate (per 100 000 inhabitants) are located in the Brazilian Amazon. 

This state of affairs can be attributed to the poor conditions in Amazon settlements, most of which are only accessible by boat, in particular their weak healthcare infrastructure, according to the researchers.

Absence of controls fosters illegal deforestation the Rainforest

The Covid-19-related isolation measures have made it more difficult for public environmental agencies to control deforestation and protect preserved areas. In the absence of stringent controls, organised groups have seized the opportunity to illegally clear parts of the rainforest, the researches state. 

According to the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPA), the research institute responsible for measuring the monthly deforestation rate in Brazil, deforestation in the first months of this year was consistently higher than in the same period last year. 

Conservation of the Amazon rainforest more urgent than ever

The authors come to the conclusion that the unhindered deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest and the invasion of indigenous territories could give rise to new epidemics. According to Professor Philip Fearnside from INPA, many pathogens (e.g. HIV and Covid-19)have crossed over from wild animals to humans, and the Amazon, with its vast biodiversity, could be a source of new pandemic outbreaks. 

The deforestation rate we are currently witnessing in the Amazon could bring human populations closer to wildlife and increase consumption of hunted animals. This scenario makes the conservation of the Amazon Rainforest more urgent than ever, the authors say.


Read more at IASS website

Artur Sgambatti Monteiro and Lucas Lima dos Santos: COVID-19 and the Increasing Fragility of the Brazilian Amazon, 05/2020. DOI: 10.2312/iass.2020.020

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