By David Blanco Bonilla
Lima, Sep 9 (EFE).- Despite the rigorous restrictions imposed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, deforestation in Peru’s Amazon region in 2020 was the greatest in the past 20 years, while authorities still have not presented a plan to prevent this trend from continuing, civil organizations warned EFE on Thursday.
Last year, Peru lost 203,272 hectares (more than 500,000 acres) of Amazon forest, a figure almost four times the 54,846 hectares it lost in 2019 and above the 177,556 hectares it lost in 2014, that year being the one with the worst deforestation in the past two decades until 2020, according to the Law, Environment and Natural Resources (DAR) association based on government figures.
“This loss of forests is linked to several causes, but one of the basic ones is … the development of agri-livestock activities,” the coordinator of the DAR’s Climate Change and Forests program, Isabel Gonzales, told EFE.
In all, between 2001 and 2020, Peru has lost 2,636,585 hectares of Amazon forest, a problem that last year was 77 percent concentrated in the departments of Loreto, San Martin, Ucayali, Junin, Madre de Dios and Amazonas.
The increase in forest loss is occurring despite the fact that the 2018-2020 government headed by Martin Vizcarra in mid-March 2020 issued one of the strictest quarantines in the world to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, a lockdown that lasted for almost four months.
In that regard, figures from the Environment Ministry showed that between March 15, 2020, when the national health emergency began, and the subsequent May 15, deforestation amounted to 7,119 hectares, down 28.7 percent from the almost 10,000 hectares registered during the same period in 2019.
Despite the fact that these figures might have been showing evidence of a downward trend, the government data indicates that the total deforestation by year-end was the heaviest in 20 years.
Gonzales said that it is probable that the high rate of deforestation is linked to the massive migration of people back to their more rural home towns given the impossibility of complying with the strict quarantine dictates in Lima and other cities.
“We’re seeing that the percentage of forest loss in little bits has increased over the past year by 8 percent. So, probably, it’s an issue that’s linked to this return of many people to the rural areas, trying to seek another way to earn their daily bread,” she said.
Another “fundamental” element was “less control by the state in these areas” amid the health restrictions, as well as the increase in illegal activities.
On this score, Gonzales said that a Ucayali government report on forest loss from January through August of this year showed “a very big increase in drug trafficking, with illegal trails for getting the drug out and the opening of small farms to illegally cultivate coca.”
“This is really rather alarming. We saw that starting in 2017 there was a slight downward trend in deforestation and what we’ve seen in the last year is that it has shot upwards, in the opposite direction,” she said.
This situation, Gonzales said, “has a direct affect, above all on the population that depends on the forests” like native communities, who are more and more threatened and are even losing their lives in this ongoing struggle to keep their resources from being affected.”
Given the situation, she added that so far the national and regional authorities have not presented a contingency plan to prevent this trend from continuing.
The situation exists despite the fact that Lima signed on to a joint declaration with Norway, Germany and the United Kingdom for committed financing of up to $200 million coming to Peru if it managed to reduce deforestation rates by 2025.
“If this doesn’t happen, if this trend that we’ve seen in 2020 begins to increase, unfortunately we’re not going to be able to access that financing and we’re compromising the chances and the options for the populations that live in and depend on our forests,” she warned.
Thus, DAR sent a letter to Peruvian President Pedro Castillo asking him to “continue and strengthen” efforts against deforestation and for the proper management of natural resources “for more equitable and sustainable management of investment.”
In addition, the organization asked Castillo to give the native populations the rights to their lands to provide them with legal security and prevent illegal activities there from increasing, as well as to provide for orderly agri-livestock activities and improve productivity in deforested areas.
The letter also includes discussion of creating a space for the government, companies and civil society to achieve transparency in infrastructure, strengthen the ability of entities involved in the fight against environmental crimes and regularize the activities of small-scale mining to reduce its environmental impact.