Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New horizons as city makes connections that could tear Amazon apart

Damian Carrington in the Guardian (UK): …The first bridge on the world's largest river system will open in November, replacing the chugging ferries that plough through the dark water below. The 3.5km-long structure spanning the Amazon's major tributary, the Rio Negro, will bring longed-for economic opportunities for those living on the far side of the river. But others fear that the bridge, combined with gas pipelines, roads and rising populations, could expose more rainforest to destruction.

Manaus is the steamy and sprawling industrial capital of the vast Amazonas state, manufacturing the latest flatscreen TVs and mobile phones for the whole of Brazil. It has been an island of wealth for 200 years, but it is now opening up in all directions. The bridge runs from north to south, to the undeveloped towns of Iranduba, Manacapuru and Novo Airão and towards the untouched jungle. To the west, a 600km gas pipeline will next month begin powering a huge new electricity power station by bringing energy from a pristine part of the forest at Urucu into the city.

To the south, the planned repaving of an impassable 900km-long highway could break Manaus's isolation from the rich and populous south, and to the east, a new electricity line will connect the city to the national grid, giving an outlet for the fossil fuel and hydroelectric riches of the Amazon, such as the controversial Belo Monte dam, recently approved.

While the people of Amazonas and their local politicians welcome the opening of new horizons, the question troubling scientists, environmental policymakers and campaigners is whether all these riches can be delivered while leaving the ancient trees of the Amazon standing. Their loss would drive climate change, and deprive the world of its most diverse store of animal and plant life.

"Now is a transition moment," said Izabella Teixeira, Brazil's environment minister. She says the country must find ways of improving the lives of those across the Amazon and exploiting its natural resources, such as hydroelectricity, without causing environmental damage. "I cannot forget this region. We have an economy there that needs to be developed," she says, pointing out the example of the Amazonian town of Labrea, which was a leper colony just 20 years ago….

NASA view of the largest city in the Amazon Basin, Manaus (with a 1994 population of 1.7 million), is located at the confluence of the Rio Negro (dark blue) and the Amazon River (lighter because of its high sediment content). The combined river flows eastward into the Atlantic Ocean.

No comments: