Deforestation in the Amazon Threatens Water Security

Five countries in which the Amazon rainforest is located face threats to their water, energy, food, and health security, according to the recently-released Amazonia Security Agenda. Deforestation and over-exploitation of the region threaten the well-being of the people living in the region as well as the industries that exist there.

The report notes that water, energy, food, and health security in the region are interdependent. Water security is essential for hydropower, agricultural production, fishery productivity, and transportation of fuels to rural communities. Yet large-scale agriculture and energy generation negatively impact water security due to pollution. Pollution from mining, agricultural runoff, oil extraction, and sewage is increasingly affecting water security.

The Amazon releases 8 trillion tonnes of water vapour into the atmosphere each year, recycling water from the Atlantic across the forest and transporting it over thousands of kilometres. Around one fifth of the rain that falls in the La Plata Basin, a region which generates 70% of the GDP for the five countries that share it, comes from the Amazon. In other words, Amazonia’s ecosystem services underpin water security far beyond the forest, feeding agriculture and hydropower, and providing water for industry and people. The estimated value of this is in the order of tens of billions of dollars annually.

The Amazon lies within five countries: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Deforestation rates have historically been highest in Brazil; however, an increase has been seen in other countries over the past decade. Last year, deforestation in the Amazon increased by 28 percent compared to the previous year. And, in the future, climate change is expected to drive deforestation as well.

Researchers predict that “Drier conditions and a more fragmented forest will increase vulnerability and precipitate further forest loss.” Large-scale deforestation is predicted to reduce rainfall in the region by up to 21 percent by 2050. Increasing temperatures, and changing weather patterns and more extreme weather events will further impact the health of the region and its inhabitants.

The report states that governments in the region must be aware of the “significant risks for people, governments, and industry,” and calls for a “new security agenda” for the region. “In other parts of the world, the impacts of environmental degradation are already exacerbating human and economic insecurity on a large scale,” the report states. “As a continent, South America has been least affected by this dynamic – perhaps in large part because of its dependence on a healthy Amazonia.”

Researchers urge leaders to work together to address risks to their natural resources and security. Carlos Klink, Brazil’s national secretary for climate change and environmental quality endorsed the report. “The challenge that we are just beginning to recognize and act upon is one of transitioning to a more sustainable economy – one that values the role of a healthy Amazonia in underpinning long-term security and prosperity,” he told EcoWatch.

Alisha is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow her on Twitter @childoftheearth.

© 2014 Ring of Fire Radio