Brazil Says Amazon Destruction Soars Again
Deforestation in the Amazon, known as "the lungs of the world" for its ability to consume greenhouse gases and produce oxygen -- shot up from 94 square miles (243 square km) in August to 366 square miles (948 square km) in December.
That is four times as much as in the same period of 2004, the government said. It did not provide comparative data for 2005 or 2006.
"We've never before detected such a high deforestation rate at this time of year," Gilberto Camara, the head of the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), which provides satellite imaging of the area, told a news conference in the capital Brasilia.
Between August and December, 1,250 sq miles (3,235 sq km) of the world's largest rain forest was lost, and environment ministry officials said that preliminary figure was likely to double as satellite images with higher resolution are analyzed.
Joao Paulo Capobianco, the ministry's executive secretary, said the figures were "extremely worrying."
Only a few months ago, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva boasted about how Brazil managed to reduce deforestation by 50 percent in the two years through July 2007.
The government had said that policies such as more controls on illegal logging and better certification of land ownership were reducing the deforestation that has destroyed about a fifth of the forest -- an area bigger than France -- since the 1970s.
Conservationists have warned that the recent rise in grain prices would lead to an increase in the deforestation, as farmers and ranchers go deeper into the Amazon in search of cheap land.
Environment Minister Marina Silva said the government will decide on Thursday new measures to curb deforestation in the Amazon, whose destruction is a major source of carbon emissions that cause global warming.
(Reporting by Ray Colitt, writing by Inae Riveras, editing by Andrei Khalip and Stuart Grudgings)