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Monday, November 26, 2012

Urban Strain Goes With the Forest Rain in the Amazon

As if the Brazilian rain forest wasn't strained enough by farmers deforesting the region, a growing source of environmental stress in the Amazon is rapid urbanization, as reported by Simon Romero for the New York Times. The Amazon is the fastest growing region of Brazil, fueled by migrants and by a higher-than-average birth rate.
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. While Brazil’s birthrate has fallen to 1.86 children per woman, one of the lowest in Latin America, the Amazon has Brazil’s highest rate, at 2.42.
Why is this happening? It's the economy, stupid (to borrow from the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton). Besides the processing of the region's burgeoning agricultural sector, there are big energy and industrial projects, including the building of hydroelectric dams and open-pit mining. All of this means jobs, and a way out of poverty for many Brazilians.
The soaring population growth in some cities in the Amazon — called the “world’s last great settlement frontier” by Brian J. Godfrey, a geography professor at Vassar College who is the co-author of “Rainforest Cities” — is intensifying an urbanization that has been advancing for decades. For more than 20 years, a majority of the Brazilian Amazon’s population has lived in urban areas.
So, instead of directly affecting the environment, the growing urban population makes an indirect, but still very large impact on the rain forest environment. Is it good for the people who are employed by all of this development? Almost certainly. Is this sustainable? Almost certainly not.

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