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Brazil launches ambitious plan to save rain forest

rain forest
Amazon rain forest   

Up to 62 million acres would be protected

April 29, 1998
Web posted at: 11:49 p.m. EDT (0349 GMT)

BRASILIA, Brazil (CNN) -- Up to 62 million acres of threatened Amazon rain forest would be preserved under a program unveiled Wednesday by the Brazilian government.

President Fernando Henrique Cardoso said his country -- in cooperation with the World Bank and the World Wildlife Fund -- would protect 10 percent of its forests by the year 2000.

The cost of the project -- which would set aside an area the size of Britain -- is estimated at between $84 million and $156 million, much of which will come from the World Bank.

Map of the Amazon rain forest

"This is a testimony of our commitment to preserve the environment for the benefit of our people, including the indigenous population and our future generations," Cardoso said.

Video of the Amazon rain forest
video icon 1.6 MB / 30 sec. / 240x180
1.0 MBK / 30 sec. / 160x120
QuickTime movie

"We cannot do it alone," he said. "Issues of this magnitude transcend national borders."

World Bank president James Wolfensohn said the bank had recently replenished its environmental fund and has nearly $2.6 billion available to preserve forests around the world during the next three years.

"Money is not the issue," he said. "The issue is going to be getting the commitment from governments to allocate areas."

He praised Cardoso's commitment as "a true gift to the Brazilian people and, indeed, the world."

As a first step, Cardoso has created four protected areas totaling almost 4 million acres. Most of the land is in two national parks in Roraima, a northern Amazon state in which an area the size of Belgium was devastated by wildfires earlier this year.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso   

The two other areas are in the southeastern Atlantic Forest, home to the golden lion tamarin, an endangered species.

Overall, Cardoso's pledge, if fulfilled, would be the largest forest conservation effort in the Amazon, home to a third of the planet's surviving tropical forests and a tenth of its plant and animal species.

Currently, only 4 percent of Brazil's Amazon forest is protected, although another 16 percent is part of Indian reserves.

In 1995 alone, 11,200 square miles of rain forest was razed in Brazil, mostly by loggers, ranchers and farmers. Although destruction has declined in recent years, about 13 percent of the 2 million-square-mile Amazon is gone.

Some scientists believe that the destruction has exacerbated global warming because trees help to absorb carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossil fuels.

"For that reason, Brazil's participation ... has a symbolic significance," said Garo Batmanian, head of the World Wildlife Fund in Brazil. "This is the first step, and many other steps must be taken."

Reuters contributed to this report.


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