Updated Mar 2, 2023, 10:50am EST
South America

Deforestation in Amazon’s indigenous reserve is three times larger than previously acknowledged

Images courtesy of Airbus DS/Earthrise via Pulitzer Press

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The News

New satellite images show that deforestation of the Yanomami reserve in the Amazon is three times larger than officially acknowledged, Repórter Brasil reported.

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Know More

Tens of thousands of illegal miners cut down more than 3,000 acres of rainforest and poisoned the Yanomami Indigenous people’s water sources.

“The devastation accelerated in 2021, reaching areas of forest that had until then been preserved and directly impacting one out of every three Yanomami villages,” Repórter Brasil reported as part of a series for the Pulitzer Center’s Amazon Mining Watch.

Brazilian special forces have been deployed to drive out illegal gold miners from the Yanomami territory — an area roughly the size of Portugal with a population of 30,000 — and destroy the mines that have led to mercury poisoning of local rivers.

Illegal mining on Yanomami land is finished,” a special forces commander said.


“Our land is so sick. Our rivers are sick. The forest’s sick … the air we breathe is sick,” a Yanomami leader told The Guardian.

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Step Back

Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency — from 2019 to 2022 — has been described as “environmentally calamitous”.

Bolsonaro said his government was open to exploring partnerships for mining in the Amazon, and cut the budget of environmental protection agencies.

“You want the indigenous people to carry on like prehistoric men with no access to technology, science, information, and the wonders of modernity,” Bolsonaro said of his critics, according to The Guardian. “Indigenous people want to work, they want to produce and they can’t. They live isolated in their areas like cavemen. What most of the foreign press do to Brazil and against these human beings is a crime.”

During his administration, an area of the Amazon larger than Belgium was cut down as deforestation rates soared to levels not seen since 2008.

At least 570 Yanomami children reportedly died of curable diseases during Bolsonaro’s administration.

Bolsonaro's successor, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, called it a “genocide.”

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The View From The U.S.

During a visit to Brazil to discuss funding for preservation efforts on Tuesday, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said: “Unless the Amazon is protected … we cannot keep the temperature to 1.5 degrees,” referring to the target set out in the Paris Agreement.

Meeting with Brazil’s Environment Minister Marina Silva, Kerry added: “The reality is that the Amazon is the test of all of our humanity.”

He said the U.S. is still considering how much funding to give to Amazon preservation efforts.

The Amazon absorbs roughly 4% of the world’s fossil fuel emissions, making it an essential element in efforts to combat climate change.