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Brazil moves to pave freeway through heart of Amazon rainforest

Brazil’s government granted an initial permit to allow the construction of a major freeway through one of the Amazon’s most protected areas.

The only road connecting the largest Amazon city, Manaus, to the rest is known as BR-319.

The road runs for half of its 900km length and is often impassable during the six month rainy season.

Researchers believe the move will result in the clearing of large areas of the rainforest. This is because the majority Amazon deforestation occurs alongside roads that make it easier to access the land and are more valuable.

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Clear cutters used to avoid the area in the past, but that is beginning to change.

Fernanda Meirelles (executive secretary, BR-319 Observatory), a watchdog group said that law enforcement actions were not sufficient to stop illegal occupation, invasions and deforestation.

Preliminary licences are a sign that the project has passed both environmental and economic screens. It is an important part of the final approval. However, asphalt work cannot begin until the preliminary licence is approved.

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The approval includes the creation of a conservation zone as a buffer for an Indigenous group, monitoring of water quality near the area, and an archaeology program.

Suely Araujo (ex-president of Ibama’s environment agency) said that the government ignores “the main problem” of the region’s deforestation explosion.

She stated that the conditions would not prevent clear-cutting in an explosion and that the license should not have been issued.

Jair Bolsonaro is running for re-election and praised the permit as an example that infrastructure projects are moving forward under his leadership.

He stated that the paving would keep traffic moving along the road.

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He said that Brazillians are used to trucks and cars getting clogged up on the BR-319 highway.

“This time, fortunately it is ending.”

This road was built in 1970 by the military dictatorship of Brazil, but it fell into disrepair.

According to a study, paving it would lead to a fivefold increase in deforestation in 2030.

Clearances in the Brazilian Amazon reached a 15 year high in 2021. This was due to Mr Bolsonaro’s weakening environmental protections.

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