AMAZON POPULATION SURGE: Excerpted from The New York Times 2012
The surging population growth of cities in the rain forest is turning the jungle vision on its head as an array of new industrial projects transforms the Amazon into Brazil’s fastest-growing region. Scientists are studying such developments and focusing on resource demands.
Deforestation in the region already ranks among the largest contributors to global greenhouse-gas emissions. Biologists and other climate researchers fear that the sharp increase in migration to cities in the Amazon, which now has a population approaching 25 million, could erode environmental gains.
“More population leads to more deforestation,” said Philip M. Fearnside, a researcher at the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus, an major Amazon city that registered by far the fastest growth of Brazil’s 10 largest cities from 2000 to 2010.
Of the 19 Brazilian cities that the latest census indicates have doubled in population over the past decade, 10 are in the Amazon. Altogether, the region’s population climbed 23 percent from 2000 to 2010, while Brazil as a whole grew just 12 percent.
Various factors are fueling this growth, among them larger family sizes and the Amazon’s high levels of poverty in comparison with other regions that draw people to the cities for work. Then there is the region’s economic allure. The construction of dozens of hydroelectric projects, including sprawling dams that have drawn protests are luring manual laborers from around Brazil.
“I came here because the economic conditions are strong,” said Francisco da Silva, 20, who arrived in August. Already, he has a small store selling basic foods like rice and beans and household items like laundry detergent. Asked how much investment it takes to start such an operation, da Silva whipped out an iPhone and did the math, calculating the cost of a barren lot, building materials and a bit of start-up capital, which he said he obtained from selling a used Honda motorcycle. “Four thousand reais,” he replied, about $2,000 (at the 2013 exchange).
The soaring population growth in some cities in the Amazon — called the “world’s last great settlement frontier,” is intensifying an urbanization that has been advancing for decades
“It’s great that people are moving out of poverty, but one of the things we need to understand when people move out of poverty is there is a larger demand on resources.” Along with population growth, research has shown that deforestation has occurred on a larger scale than reforestation in Brazil’s Amazon over the past decade. The effects of Amazon deforestation are yet to be fully understood as its cities continue to increase in size and population. Santarém and Manaus are prime examples of this surge in growth.