|Amazonia: Resiliency and Dynamism of the Land and Its People (UNU, 1995, 253 pages)|
|9. Trends and opportunities|
Amazonia has clearly not entered the critical stage with regard to environmental destruction. Deforestation is confined mainly to an arc stretching along the southern and eastern fringe of the Amazon, and along the mid to lower Amazon river (fig. 9.1). The only major ecosystem seriously threatened in the region is the Amazon flood-plain forest, particularly from Manaus to the mouth of the Xingu. Overall, only 10 per cent of Amazonia's forests are currently cleared (Brown and Brown 1992).
Although the impacts of environmental changes under way in Amazonia appear to be confined to the regional or local scale, the forces of destruction are likely to increase in the future. Brazil's population is growing by some 3 million people a year, and efforts to open up Amazonia for settlement and development will inevitably intensify.
With a return to a democratic form of government in Brazil, pentup social pressures for land reform and more jobs will surely lead to greater migration currents and the opening up of forest to settlement and development projects. indeed, threats to parks and reserves are increasing during the transition to full democracy, as politicians seek to curry favour with voters, both poor and rich, by "liberating" forest areas for occupation.
Some forms of environmental degradation grow worse over time, whereas others improve as a country develops (Steer 1992). If incomes continue to rise in Amazonia, then urban sanitation is likely to improve. Installing or upgrading potable water and sewerage systems is a high priority for the state of Pará, for example. With hundreds of millions of dollars from the Inter-American Development Bank, Belém is bringing safe drinking water to hundreds of thousands of residents. Air pollution in cities generally becomes worse then gradually improves with rising incomes. Also, deforestation and encroachment generally diminish as living standards improve (Steer 1992). There is nothing automatic about these trends; they still hinge on the commitment and foresight of policy makers and funding agencies.
The underlying rationale here - and it is the key assumption - is that only by addressing the need to improve living conditions can concerns about environmental degradation be adequately addressed (World Bank 1992). Although some would argue that higher levels of consumption bring their own environmental problems, few would argue that the Amazon can be "saved" by restricting economic growth.