The highway through Brazil’s Amazon rainforest could trigger a wave of illegal deforestation.
Brazil lawmakers have passed a bill to pave a highway through the heart of the Amazon rainforest.
The lower house of Brazil’s Congress voted to approve the measure, which relaxes environmental licensing, late on Tuesday. It still needs Senate approval.
Scientists say the highway will threaten the future of the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
The bill allows for the use of conservation funds donated to Brazil to finance the highway project, such as the $1.3 billion (€1.18 bn) Amazon Fund backed by the US and European allies.
Brazil’s highway project could trigger deforestation in the Amazon
The highway was originally built in the 1970s by a military government pushing to populate the Amazon, but it was quickly abandoned.
By the late 1980s, most of the highway running some 900 kilometres from Porto Velho in Rondonia state to Manaus in Amazonas state, had disintegrated into a rutted dirt road.
Much of the route is now impassable during the rainy season. Vehicles that attempt it during dry months crawl along the broken pavement, dodging huge potholes and jungle debris.
Amazon researchers say the repaved road would trigger an explosion of deforestation in Amazonas state, home to most of Brazil‘s best-preserved rainforest state due to a lack of roads.
Every major highway project in the Amazon has set off a surge in land grabbing and illegal deforestation. Researchers say BR-319 would open a new frontier for logging that could push the rainforest past a point of no return.
Why is Brazil building a highway through the Amazon?
Defenders of the project call it necessary to reduce the isolation of the two connected states, Amazonas and Rondonia. With BR-319 out of service much of the year, Manaus is often accessible only by river and air travel from the rest of Brazil.
The bill calls the highway “critical infrastructure, indispensable to national security, requiring the guarantee of its trafficability.”