Brazil approves major road through Amazon rainforest despite illegal logging fears

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Brazil grants permit for major road through middle of Amazon rainforest (Getty Images)
Brazil grants permit for major road through middle of Amazon rainforest (Getty Images)

Plans for a road to be paved through the centre of the Amazon rainforest have now been approved in Brazil, increasing fears of deforestation and illegal logging.

Brazil’s environmental authority granted an initial permit for the major highway on Thursday, the minister of infrastructure said.

The campaign to repave the road was pledged by President Jair Bolsonaro in an effort to connect the largest Amazon city, Manaus, to the rest of Brazil year-round.

The road was originally built in the 1970s by Brazil’s military dictatorship but quickly disintegrated because of the harsh climate of the rainforest.

It is now mainly covered in mud for the rainy season of the year, which is at least six months.

However, repaving the road would allow illegal loggers and land grabbers to access remote and mostly untouched areas of the forest more easily.

Deforestation, often illegal, of the Amazon rainforest is threatening the existence of the indigenous communities (Getty Images)
Deforestation, often illegal, of the Amazon rainforest is threatening the existence of the indigenous communities (Getty Images)

A study estimated the project would result in a fivefold rise in deforestation by 2030, the equivalent of an area larger than the US state of Florida.

Mr Bolsonaro’s weakening of environmental protections has already spurred soaring deforestation, with clearances of the Brazilian Amazon hitting a record high in 2022.

Satellite images taken between January and June this year show 1,500 square miles of forest destroyed, more than in any six-month period in the seven years of record-keeping under the current methodology.

A study estimated the project would result in a fivefold rise in deforestation by 2030 (Getty Images)
A study estimated the project would result in a fivefold rise in deforestation by 2030 (Getty Images)

Infrastructure minister Marcelo Sampaio announced the permit on Twitter, posting an image of the licence from environmental agency Ibama. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“In an alignment of engineering and respect for the environment, we are going to take the society of Amazonas state out of isolation,” he wrote.

Mr Sampaio did not immediately respond to questions about environmental concerns.

The initial licence will allow the government to contract companies to pave the largest, middle section of the road that is in the worst condition. Contractors will draw up plans but would need another permit to begin construction.

This first licence would stipulate many conditions in the plans that must be met to start construction, said Marco Aurelio Lessa Villela, a former environmental analyst at Ibama.

“There must be an enormous list of things … that would be necessary for a road in that place not to be a tragedy,” Mr Villela said.

Still, an initial licence means there is a good chance the road could move forward, he said.

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