Paraguay has called for urgent international assistance to cope with deforestation after 437,000 acres of the country's forest have been destroyed in just eight months.
Authorities believe that ranchers from Brazil are buying up and deforesting huge swathes of the country’s remote Chaco region to make way for cattle farms.
The call comes as neighbouring Brazil announced last week that deforestation in the Amazon region had fallen by 45 per cent.
Paraguay’s Environmental Prosecutor, Dr Luis Casaccia, told MPs yesterday that ‘ranchers have turned their attention to the Chaco, as authorities in Brazil have clamped down on deforestation’.
Speaking alongside Dr Alberto Yanosky of NGO Guyra Paraguay and John Burton, the CEO of the World Land Trust, Dr Casaccia showed photos of heavy machinery transported from Brazil being unloaded in the border city of Bahia Negra.
‘There is very little border supervision,’ he said.
1500 football pitches of forest lost every day
Using satellite imaging, Guyra Paraguay has estimated daily deforestation rates in the country at up to 3000 acres.
Dr Yanosky said that, at its peak in May, this ‘amounted to 1500 football pitches of forest being lost every day’.
Dr. Casaccia, who was Minister of Environment in Paraguay until May of this year, expressed regret that Fernando Lugo, Paraguay’s President, had been unable to follow through the commitments he made to stem environmental damage.
‘As Minister of Environment, I took the emergency measure in March of suspending all licenses for deforestation in the Chaco. Unfortunately, the man who replaced me, Alfredo Molinas, used the same powers to reissue the licenses in May,’ he said.
‘He could not withstand the pressure from the ranchers…the guilds of producers are very strong.’
Moving too fast to catch
Dr Casaccia said that in his new role as Environmental Prosecutor, his work is being hampered by the speed of the land clearance.
‘We get calls telling us about illegal deforestation but by the time we get the vehicles to the site, the ranchers have moved on. They are able to move much faster than we are.’
GIS monitoring equipment has allowed NGOs and government agencies to keep track of the destruction. But without sufficient resources they are powerless to respond.
Threats and intimidation
‘Ranchers are armed. It makes it impossible for wardens to act - there have been many examples of threats and intimidation,’ said Dr. Yanosky.
He said that the sanctions available to the government were also inadequate.
‘The maximum fine for infringement of the laws is $10,000 – $12,000. It is no problem for the ranchers to pay this and carry on – it makes good business.’
Although there have been some imprisonments as a result of Dr. Casaccia’s investigations, he admits that the deterrent is sometimes mistargeted.
‘These are normally the people who have been contracted to do the work. We never get the people organising the deforestation. They are in Brazil,’ he said.
The World Land Trust, which organised Dr. Casaccia and Dr Yanosky’s visit, are calling for urgent funds to purchase and protect what is left of Paraguay's forests.
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