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Colección: INTERAMER
Número: 69
Año: 2000
Autor: Ramón López and Juan Carlos Jordán, Editors
Título: Sustainable Development in Latin America: Financing and Policies Working in Synergy

Overview of Deforestation in Latin America and the Caribbean

Table 1 shows annual deforestation rates in Latin America for the period 1980-1990 and 1990-1995, and the proportion of remaining forests in 1996 vis-a-vis the estimated original forests. The rate of forest loss in Central America during the nineties has more than tripled, to 1.3% per annum, one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world. By contrast, according to estimates of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as cited by the World Resources Institute (WRI), forest losses have fallen considerably in South America, from 0.7% annually in the eighties to 0.5% over the period 1990-1995, an almost 30% deceleration.

Data based on a much more detailed remote sensing monitoring of deforestation on the Brazilian Amazon done by PRODES confirm a significant reduction of deforestation. However, the reduction in the Brazilian Amazon is considerably less dramatic than that for South America as a whole provided by the FAO estimates: only about 13%, or half as much.1 But, more recent data available from PRODES clearly suggest that deforestation in the Amazon has been worsening again over the last three years. In fact, in the period 1995-1997, the annual rate shot up to 0.57%, a figure well above the historical rates estimated by PRODES. More recent information regarding an enormous surge of forest fires in Mexico, Central America, the Amazon, and elsewhere in the region suggests that deforestation rates in 1998 will be even higher than those of 1994-1997.


Deforestation rate (%)
1996 forest as % of original forest



Central Americaa,b
South Americab
Amazon Basinc

a. Includes Mexico
b. FAO, cited in World Resources 1998-99.
c. Instituto de Pesquisas Espacieis, PRODES, 1998.

Deforestation is usually associated with soil degradation, water deterioration, river-basin problems, risks of natural disasters arising mainly from flooding, losses of animal and plant species, and increased carbon emissions. Most of the deforestation in Latin America occurs in areas highly sensitive in terms of the social and ecological costs associated with the degradation—in some of the major river basins of the region, for instance. As of 1997 almost 90% of the forest in the Magdalena Basin, 71% in the Paraná Basin, 66.1% in São Francisco Basin, 50% in the Tocantins Basin, and 92% in the Uruguay Basin has been removed (WRI, 1998).

But many of the costs of deforestation are global. For instance, the destruction of natural forest in Latin America constitutes an important loss of biodiversity (one of the highest in the world) and a source of large CO2emissions into the atmosphere. Forest fires or, more generally, biomass burning is a major source of carbon emissions. It is estimated that biomass burning around the world produces about 21% of total carbon emissions (Andreae, 1991). Of this, Latin America contributes about a third—that is, 7-8% of the total.

We next consider some of the causal factors underlying the pressure on forest resources, and the alternatives for conservation.