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A stake through the heart of the world
1st July, 2005
Scientists mapping the effects of deforestation in the Amazon are increasingly concerned that we are reaching a tipping point – when the forest will start to die back of its own accord and rain, currently generated by the Amazon forests, will stop falling, not just in neighbouring countries but as far afield as the United States and South Africa.
Last December, a phenomenon never seen before struck the western Amazon, close to the border between Brazil, Colombia and Peru. If you live in that part of the world you get used to the massive thunderstorms and torrents of rain that come in from the east, but no one there had ever before experienced the dense, dry, cough-wracking fog that stagnated for days over the region. For more than a week people remained confined to their homes, and, with visibility down to zero, no aircraft could land, no boats could ply the river. It wasn’t long before food and fuel began to run out in the city of Leticia, on the Colombian side of the river, and if anyone required serious medical attention then it was just too bad – no way could they be airlifted to safety.
When I was in Leticia a month or so later, people were still talking about the mysterious fog that had scared the life out of them. Meanwhile, word was coming in that, way to the east, Brazil had carried out another massive burn of the rainforest.
Last year, 2004, was the second biggest burn in Brazil’s history, with more than 26,000 square kilometres of pristine rainforest going up in smoke: that’s just short of the burn in 1995, when...
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