Brazil's Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world, the storehouse of one-eighth of the planet's fresh water and a primary source of its oxygen.
Protecting these precious resources was the focus of nearly two decades of federal environmental policy in Brazil. But the current administration is now rolling back regulation, making way for greater deforestation and development.
27 May 2012. TRAIRAO, Brazil. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
Sights like this clearing, which was felled by a timber company, may become more common under the current President Dilma Rousseff's government. In the 19 months since she took office, longstanding rules that curtail deforestation and protect millions of square kilometers of watershed have been reigned in. Rousseff issued an executive order to shrink or repurpose seven protected woodlands, making way for hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure projects, and to legalise settlements by farmers and miners.
The president is clear in her reasoning: Unleashing further development in the Amazon rainforest, an area seven times the size of France, is essential to maintaining the sort of economic growth that over the past decade lifted 30 million Brazilians out of poverty and made Brazil the world's sixth-largest economy.
25 May 2012. Itaituba, Brazil. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
Illegal deforestation, like this swath cut into the forest close to the Amazonia National Park in Itaituba, has potentially become easier under the current government.
In 2011, President Rousseff authorised a change that transferred much responsibility for environmental oversight from Brazil’s widely respected federal environmental agency, Ibama, to local officials. The government believes that locals are better-positioned to ensure that loggers and miners work legally. But others say local authorities lack the resources needed to police the Amazon and are more susceptible to intimidation and bribes.
Now, with few federal agents on the ground left to patrol the reserves, illegal destruction of the rainforest becomes apparent only once the area is big enough to be detected - cloud cover permitting - by satellites or rare and costly aerial surveillance. Because the state government grants the licenses for the lumberyards, federal officials inspect them less frequently now, too.
26 May 2012. ITAITUBA, Brazil. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
The current government's policies have opened up the way for plans to build 21 dams in the Amazon by 2021. Among them is a hydroelectric dam in Brazil's Amazonia National Park - the oldest national park in the region - on the Tapajos River. The project will inundate a large section of woodland upstream as well as the village of Pimental, where this woman washes her clothes, and which is home to about 800 fishermen and small farmers.