News Review

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 12:00am

News items help us learn more about our society. However, we also need to look beyond Hong Kong. The News Review, such as this story from Brazil, will help you get a glimpse of what is happening around the world.

Rainforest threatened with near-annihilation

(SCMP, January 20, 2001)

The Independent

The most detailed investigation of the fate of the world's greatest tropical rainforest estimates that as little as five per cent of the Amazon may remain in its pristine, wild state by 2020.

The pessimistic scenario is painted by a team of Brazilian and American scientists, who have analysed how the delicate Amazon ecosystem will respond to a new US$40 billion (HK$311 billion) road project.

Although the Amazon now accounts for about 40 per cent of the Earth's rainforest, the scientists believe that within 20 years this will have dwindled alarmingly as a direct result of an ambitious scheme, known as Avanca Brasil (Advance Brazil), by building roads, railways and

hydro-electric dams.

The scientists accuse the Brazilian Government of fast-tracking the project by keeping out environmental agencies - including its own Environment Ministry - thus accelerating logging and deforestation.

'Once a road or highway is built, a Pandora's box is opened which is almost impossible for a government to control,' said Dr William Laurance, of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, who led the study. 'Once you build a road into a pristine forest, you start an inevitable process of illegal colonisation, logging, land-clearing and forest destruction.'

The team developed computer models to predict the course of forest destruction.

'We used the past as a guide to the future. We looked at the entire network of roads and highways in the Amazon to see how deforestation occurs in the region of a new road,' said Dr Laurance.

The study, published in the journal Science, shows two possible scenarios: 'optimistic' and 'non-optimistic' futures. Under the less optimistic scenario, more than 95 per cent of the Amazon will lose its untouched status and 42 per cent of the forest will be totally denuded or heavily degraded by 2020. Even under the more optimistic view, well over half of Amazonia will no longer be in a pristine state and about 30 per cent will be lost forever.

The Amazon is already experiencing the most rapacious destruction seen in any rainforest in the world, with the loss of almost two million hectares a year.

However, the Avanca Brasil plan will increase this rate of loss by between 14 per cent and 25 per cent each year, according to the study. 'At stake is the fate of the greatest tropical rainforest on Earth,' the scientists say.

Deforestation has so far largely occurred on the southern and eastern fringes of the Amazon, but the building of roads will allow logging deep within the rainforest.


pristine (adj) in original condition; unspoilt

pessimistic (adj) expecting the worst

dwindle (v) to decrease in size, strength or number

accelerate (v) to increase the speed of something

destruction (n) the act of ruining something and making it useless

denude (v) to make bare

rapacious (adj) greedy, grasping

Discussion points

What do you think about the threat to the Amazon rainforest?

What practical things can be done to stop its destruction?

How do Hong Kong people's actions or lifestyle affect the environment locally and worldwide?