Brasilia, Brazil — More of the Amazon rain forest has been destroyed during the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva than during any other four-year period since 1988, an environmental group said Wednesday.
According to Instituto Socioambiental, the Amazon lost some 33,000 square miles (84,000 square kilometers) of forest cover — an area larger than the U.S. state of South Carolina — during Silva’s first term beginning in 2003. Silva was re-elected on Oct. 29.
By comparison, the Amazon lost some 30,000 square miles (77,700 square kilometers) under the second term of previous President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, said Ines Zanchetta, a spokeswoman for the group. The government began keeping records on Amazon deforestation rates in 1988.
Last month, the Brazilian government announced that rain forest destruction had fallen for the second year in a row to its lowest rate since 1991.
“While we applaud the fact that the deforestation rate has gone down over the past two years … the total amount of forest that has been destroyed during Silva’s first four years in office is greater than the amount that was destroyed in either of Cardoso’s two four-year terms,” Zanchetta said.
The group said the rain forest is currently disappearing at the rate of about five football fields per minute.
Joao Paulo Capobianco, the Environment Ministry’s secretary of biodiversity and forests, dismissed the group’s conclusions as “nonsense.”
“The data is correct, but the analysis is wrong,” he said.
Capobianco said the group failed to take into account that deforestation began to rise steadily after 2000, early in Cardoso’s second term, and Silva’s administration had reversed that trend.
According to figures released by the environmental ministry, about 5,100 square miles (13,100 square kilometers) of rain forest were destroyed this year — the lowest level since 4,300 square miles (11,000 square kilometers) were lost in 1991.
A record 11,200 square miles (29,000 square kilometer) were lost in 1995.
Environmentalists praised government efforts to step up enforcement of environmental regulations, but said deforestation has slowed largely because of a drop in the price of soybeans and the strengthening of Brazil’s currency, making it less profitable to clear the rain forest to grow the crop.
Destroying trees through burning contributes to global warming, releasing about 370 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year — about 5 percent of the world total — scientists say.
The rain forest covers 60 percent of Brazil. Experts say as much as 20 percent of its 1.6 million square miles (4.1 million square kilometers) has already been destroyed by development, logging and farming.