Satellite mapping of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon shows how criminal activities threaten the world’s largest rainforest.
Imaging compiled by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) shows how in 2018 medium scale deforestation affected huge swaths of rainforest in Peru’s central and southern jungle regions. It also highlights five deforestation hotspots in 2018, with the southeast of the country the worst affected.
Three of the five, La Pampa, the area around Bahuaja Sonene National Park and Iberia are in the Madre de Dios region. In these areas, deforestation is driven by illegal gold mining, and agricultural projects, including some plantations in restricted areas where agriculture is not permitted. The other areas are spread between the central jungle regions of Ucayali and Huanaco and the northeastern forests of Loreto, where agriculture has claimed large jungle areas, many of which lie within forestry zoning areas where it is not permitted.
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Over 155,000 hectares of Peruvian forests were cut down in 2017, according to figures of the National Forestry and Wildlife Service (Servicio Nacional Forestal y de Fauna Silvestre – SERFOR. While some of this was a result of legal activities, much of it was a result of multimillion-dollar criminal economies that feed off the Amazon.
As the MAAP images highlight, one of the main causes of deforestation is rampant illegal gold mining in the Madre de Dios region. Run by criminal mining clans and a driver of other organized crime activities such as human trafficking and money laundering, illegal mining not only causes deforestation but also widespread contamination of the Amazon, through the use of chemicals such as mercury and the dumping of waste material.
Peru is also home to a lucrative illegal timber trade. Illegal loggers operating in regions such as Loreto, Ucuyali, Madre de Dios, San Martin and Huanaco, are driving certain species to the edge of extinction in order to supply the domestic market and international markets such as China. Behind the loggers are mafias of timber traffickers, many of which operate behind the front of legal companies, and corruption networks reaching deep into the state.
The drug trade is also a major driver of deforestation, as the isolation of the jungle provides the perfect cover for coca cultivation as well as for the clandestine landing strips used by the light aircraft that traffic drugs out of the country. Drug processing also contaminates the environment by dumping the toxic precursor chemicals used into the Amazonian waterways.
Even ostensibly legal activities are often fronts for criminality and corruption in the Amazon. As shown by MAAP, agricultural projects often pay little heed to land use and deforestation restrictions as land grabs are easy to legalize thanks to rampant corruption. Land trafficking is also rife, with plots illegally traded and then razed for agriculture.
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