Imperiled Riches—Threatened Rainforests


July 31, 2012

The construction of roads to access logging, oil, and mining sites in the rainforest opens vast stretches of forest to exploitation by landless poor who are responsible for the majority of rainforest destruction today. Generally these roads are funded by governments and development agencies, but some are also financed by private development interests. One of the most famous projects is the Trans-Amazonian highway in Brazil, which opened up Roraima state to widespread invasion and deforestation by miners and colonists.

A new road project in South America that links Amazon outposts in Brazil to Pacific Ocean ports in Peru is of great concern to environmentalists and Indigenous-rights groups. The road—known as the "Interoceanic highway" -- runs through the state of Madre de Dios in southeastern Peru, an area of extraordinarily diverse rainforest. The road has already been linked to a surge in illegal logging and mining. The project was completed in 2011.

Roads in Latin America and other parts of the world are increasingly the result of political pressure from corporate interests, namely loggers, mining companies, oil and gas developers, and industrial agricultural firms, rather than government-backed poverty alleviation and development efforts. In the Amazon, the powerful cattle and soy lobby has pushed for infrastructure development so ranchers and farmers can convert remote forest areas and get their products to market faster and at lower cost.

Roads in mountainous regions have added impacts, including exacerbating landslides and soil erosion.

Logging road in Borneo. Click image for more photos. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

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  • Smith, N.J.H., Rainforest corridors, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982 explores the Trans-Amazonian highway project.