Results and Discussion

Under Avanca Brasil, various infrastructure elements will be created to enable the development of areas of Amazonia. This project focuses on thebuilding and/or paving of existing roads that will criss-cross the Amazon, leading to fragmentation, increased fire risk, deforestation and encroachment onto traditional indigenous lands. The roads to be paved include the following:

These road networks will effectively fragment the most dense and remote areas of the Amazon Rainforest and leave it vulnerable to destruction through fire. The construction of highways and the improvement of secondary roads, financed by economic development projects, are largely responsible for the deforestation in the Amazon region (Fearnside 1987). The image below shows the deforestation that is common along roadways near the thousands of Amazon tributaries.


Wildfire is a major concern in the Amazon. Roads lead to fragmentation of forest lands and the drying out of edges of forest. In seasons of reduced rainfall or drought, or in El Nino years, breaks in the forest canopy will result in more radiation being absorbed and drier soil. This is a positive feedback cycle leading to larger and larger areas of flammable forest. The areas at risk for fire damage are shown in this excellent map created by the Woods Hole Research Center (please visit IPAM for a thorough description of the forest-flammability process):

Much of the more-developed Northeast Amazon is classified as flammable forest. In addition, new migrants arriving on the road will increase wildfire concerns if they burn their land to clear it. Recent satellite imagery shows there are hundreds of wildfires burning in the Amazon at any given moment. Each red dot is a fire and this map was created using MODIS fire detection satellite data and it shows fires that were burning between July 1 and 14, 2002. Please note that the bulk of these fires occur in areas where the roads have already been paved. It is likely that paving roads through the heart of the Amazon will lead to silimar fire patterns in areas that will be more accessable with Avanca Brasil initiatives.

Fire represents a major threat to indigenous groups, many of whom depend on the forest for food and the collection of medicinal herbs. Rubber-tappers, farmers and cultivators can potentially lose their livelihood. Further concerns relate to loss of wildlife and biodiversity. There is currently no effective way to combat wildfire in the Amazon.

Resource Extraction

With the improved access that comes with an improved road system, the Amazon will face challenges coming from ther resouce extraction industry. Greenpeace estimates that 80% of Amazon logging is illegal. The spatial distribution of saw mills and the output of those mills and spatially correlated to the location of paved roads, as this next map shows.

There are areas of medium level extraction (expressed as a standard deviation value) in central Para along the unpaved sections of the Trans-Amazon Highway, but most of the concentrated logging output occurs in areas where paved roads allow logging trucks access. It is likely that improved roads in the central Amazon will result in a greater concentration of saw mills and logging operation in the area. Furthermore, paved highways will open up a new frontier to illegal logging operations such as the one pictured below.

Illegal madereiros (loggers) and garimpeiros (miners) have a profound impact on the indigenous populations in the Amazon. Garimpeiros that use mercury to extract gold from the Bacaja River have polluted the fresh water ecosystem to the point where the Bacaja tribe is no longer able to fish, bathe, nor obtain drinking water from the river. Mercury poisoning has also lead to birth deformities within the Bacaja tribe (Amazon Co-op). The indigenous tribes have also contracted countless diseases from their contacts with non-indigenous people. Diseases contracted include influenza, chickenpox, flu, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and malaria (Amazon Co-op).

Rural Migration and Indigenous Land Issues

The purpose of the roads is not only to create access to natural resources within the Amazon, but also allow for easier transportation routes between cities and ports in the area. The Guardian, a London daily ran the following story in June of 2001:

Manaus photo and other Brazilain city photos can be found here.

Avanca Brasil will lead to more city building like Manaus and this will be a major concern for residents of the Amazon. Cities grow outwards and encroach on forested lands. Urban sprawl brings further concerns over infrastructure needs, such as waste disposal. This type of development can be effectivly controlled by the state, but many others cannot.

New roads increase access for new migrants and increase the amount of land available for colonization. Accordingly, highway construction in the Amazon over the last 20 years has resulted in considerable land conversion from tropical forests to farming. A population increase of 330% has been largely responsible for the deforestation in Mato Grosso and Rondonia. Deforestation commonly replaces high diversity tropical forests with low diversity pasture and farmland.

Based on past economic development projects, the improvement of more roads in the Amazon region will bring even more migrants to these areas, who will further encroach onto indigenous lands. Approximately 60% of Brazil's entire indigenous population will be affected by the proposed projects of Avanca Brasil. About 90% of the indigenous communities affected have a legal right to their land (Amazon Alliance, 2001). The indigenous groups whose land will be directly effected by the paving of the amazon highways include the following: Sao Marcos, Yanomami, Serra da Moça, Truaru, Sucuba, Raimundao, Canauanim, Tabalascada, Malacacheta, Wai-Wai, Waimiri-Atroari, Gaviao, Paquiçamba, Arara, Koatinemo, Trincheira/Bacaja, Rio Jumas, Cachoeira Seca do Iriri, Kararao, Parakana, Mae Maria, Apurina do Ig, Tauamirim, Lago Capana, Ariramba, Lago Jauari, Bau, Nove de Janeiro, Menkragnoti and Panara (IPAM).
I created the following map with data from the Brazilian Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and creative use of CorelDraw and Corel PhotoPaint. It shows that the new road systems will directly effect many indigenous groups, particularily if the trend towards inital deforestation within 50km of the proposed highways in each direction hold true:

Deforestation as Seen from Space

Using LANDSAT spot vegetation data and MODIS reflective surface (500m) data, I have prepared some interesting maps depicting the deforestation that occurs along paved highways in the Amazon. Please note the extensive deforestation in the earliest paved roads, the BR-010 and the PA-150, and the deforestation in the more recently paved BR-364 and the north end of the BR-174. To view the data sources, please refer to the methodology page.