Deforestation by mining in the Yanomami Indigenous Land jumped 25% in 2022, points out Inpe

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Mining in the Yanomami Indigenous Land, in Roraima, led to the deforestation of 232 hectares of Amazon forest in 2022 alone, according to data from INPE (National Institute for Space Research). The number represents an increase of 24.7% in relation to the index registered in the previous year (186 hectares).

The survey was carried out using information from Deter (Real Time Deforestation Detection System), compiled at the request of the reporter. In all of last year, the system only registered deforestation in the indigenous land (TI) related to illegal mining.

In an interview with Sheetthe Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Marina Silva, stated that the federal government intends to remove the miners from the region.

“Structured actions are being planned and obviously we don’t usually announce the dates of our operations. [governo] Bolsonaro did that a lot. They published in the Official Gazette. But we have a protocol that is to do the planning and take the actions. So that the misdemeanors do not come to precautions, “he said.

The historical series of the satellite monitoring system brings data since 2016.

Until 2018, Deter did not record deforestation by mining in the Yanomami area, but since 2019, this type of devastation appears every year. By 2022, the program points to 958 hectares of Amazon forest lost for this purpose —the equivalent of six Ibirapuera parks.

Claudio Almeida, coordinator of Inpe’s Monitoring Program for the Amazon and Other Biomes, says that the system differentiates the type of deforestation according to the context.

“If that spot you see is on the riverbank, if there is soil removal, if those lakes appear [que se formam em pontos de garimpo], is a sign of mining. So, what we realized is that, in 2022, all the deforestation that happened in the Yanomami IL was mining.”

Deter was created to enable faster inspection actions and the fight against environmental crimes. The program’s deforestation detection accuracy is, in general, lower than that of the system used for the official calculation of deforestation, Prodes (Project for Monitoring Deforestation in the Legal Amazon by Satellite).

Although not intended for measuring deforestation, Deter can be used to observe trends in growth, decline or maintenance of deforestation in the Amazon.

Geographer Estevão Senra, a researcher at the Instituto Socioambiental, says he believes that the jump in devastation in the TI last year can be attributed to two factors. The first is greater ease of expanding a structure already installed in the forest. The second has to do with 2022 being an election year.

“On the one hand, if [o ex-presidente Jair] Bolsonaro won, there was an expectation of regulation or a continuation of the blind eye [na fiscalização]. So, you promote a kind of race to see who arrives first and occupies the areas where there is already some prospecting. [de encontrar minério]“, he says. Then people go there to take what they can, while they can.”

It is not just INPE data that point to this trend. According to the Monitoring System for Illegal Mining in the Yanomami Indigenous Land, carried out by the Hutukara indigenous association, in 2022 deforestation caused by illegal activity increased by 1,781 hectares.

Monitoring has been promoted since 2018 by the Yanomami organization, using high-resolution images from the Planet satellite constellation. In addition to being analyzed by specialists every two months, the survey is validated in annual flyovers of the area.

According to Hutukara, satellites visit the region more frequently, which guarantees the capture of cloud-free images in areas that are often not recorded by other satellites. As the mapping is finer, the numbers are higher than other systems.

The survey shows the advance of gold mining on Yanomami land. While in October 2018 the total area lost to mining was 1,236 hectares, in December 2022 it reached 5,053 hectares. From December 2021 to December 2022, devastation grew by 54%.

Senra says that the presence of miners in the region starts to become more pronounced in 2016, when the price of gold on the international market makes investing in this activity more worthwhile.

“Furthermore, there is the fact that in this period a process of dismantling of environmental protection policies has already begun to be observed, which was completely deepened in the last quadrennium.”

Throughout his term, Bolsonaro not only criticized and stopped investing in inspection activities, but also adopted policies that encouraged the destruction of the environment. An example is a decree —revoked by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) upon taking office— that created a program to encourage “artisanal mining”. In practice, the act was a boost to illegal mining in indigenous lands and environmental protection areas.

“The garimpeiros are testing the State’s power of repression. If repression does not happen, they invest in making that structure more sophisticated: buying more helicopters, increasing the fleet of planes, expanding the number of landing strips and the corrutelas become more complex, with more services”, says Senra.

The geographer adds that the data collected by Hutukara consider the deforestation also caused by the installation of corrutelas, as the prospectors’ camps are known. He also recalls that the data refer to mining carried out on dry land (known as gully mining). The one made on rafts, on rivers, is very difficult to be detected by satellite.

The Yanomami territory is almost 10 million hectares in size, which may make the size of the devastation caused by mining not seem so serious, but this is a misleading impression.

“Even being a relatively small area when compared to the size of the indigenous land, mining and prospecting have an irreversible impact”, says Júlia Shimbo, scientific coordinator of MapBiomas in Brazil. “The impact is very big. Not only in the environmental part, but also in the social and cultural aspects, of threat to the indigenous peoples.”

The researcher also points out that data from Mapbiomas itself corroborate the destruction associated with mining. By 2021, the platform indicates a mining area of ​​1,556 hectares mapped on Yanomami land.

“You have three different databases, with different methods, which indicate this frightening progressive increase, mainly in the last four years”, he says.

She points out that the fact that Hutukara points out higher numbers indicates the importance of local monitoring of these territories, enabling this information to be used as an instrument of pressure by the public authorities.

The Yanomami TI is experiencing a humanitarian crisis —with cases of malnutrition, malaria and respiratory diseases— made worse by the permanence of more than 20,000 prospectors invading the demarcated area.

The increase in malaria is associated with mining, mainly because the disturbance in the environment favors the proliferation of vectors.

The mercury used in mining also pollutes rivers and the soil, causing loss of biodiversity and directly affecting the indigenous way of life.

In addition, the presence of illegal activity has a social impact on communities, with an increase in violence, alcohol consumption and prostitution.

The Planeta em Transe project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.

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