Updated: Jan 13
The year 2020 has been devastating for the Peruvian Amazon. Deforestation reached 203,272 hectares, a figure that is 54,846 more than the amount of forests lost the previous year.
This figure, the highest in the last two decades, is the result of satellite monitoring carried out by the Ministry of the Environment (Minam), through its National Program for the Conservation of Forests for the Mitigation of Climate Change.
The report also indicates that between 2001 and 2020, 2,636,585 hectares of forests were lost in Peru. »In a year marked by national immobilization due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the loss of forests in Peru has had the highest figures so far this century. Without a doubt, most of the proportion of deforestation is due to illegal activity, that activity that is not regulated, ”says Gabriel Quijandría, a former Minister of the Environment who was in office until July 2021.
Ucayali has been the region with the highest deforestation in Peru in 2020. The figures from the Geobosques portal indicate 47,267 hectares lost in the region.
In this department, in addition, 45 possible clandestine landing strips have been identified during 2020 and nine more so far in 2021, according to reports from the Regional Government of Ucayali. This is a sample of what the advance of drug trafficking means in this region.
So is the murder of indigenous leaders registered during 2020 in the border area between the Ucayali, Huánuco and Pasco regions. «Everything that has been seen in the border area between Ucayali and Huánuco linked to environmental defenders and pressure for illegal coca leaf cultivation. It is a problem linked to security, ”says Quijandría.
It was in Huánuco that the first murder of an indigenous leader occurred just a month after the quarantine was decreed. On April 12, they assassinated Arbildo Meléndez, head of the Unipacuyacu native community, of the Kakataibo indigenous people, who was confronting those who had invaded their territory and the advance of illegal coca crops on communal lands.
In the following months, four Kakataibo indigenous people were murdered in the territory between Ucayali and Huánuco. In all cases, the deaths were related to the presence of drug trafficking.
"It was what was expected in the absence of the state," says the Public Prosecutor of the Ministry of the Environment Julio Guzmán in reference to the more than 200,000 hectares lost in 2020.
Guzmán points out that although it is necessary to analyze what has happened to each of the environmental crimes in the Amazonian territory, he also mentions that "there was an increase in crimes related to forests."
The attorney explains that at least 25% more environmental crimes associated with illegal logging have been presented, but also "mafias linked to drug trafficking have continued to operate."
The reasons behind the deforestation have been diverse in each region - says the Ministry of the Environment - in Ucayali an increase in illegal coca cultivation has been identified in some provinces such as Coronel Portillo, specifically in Calleria and Masisea. In Loreto, on the border with San Martin, as in the Caballococha area, there is also a lot of influence from illicit coca leaf crops.
The rise of shifting cultivation
Illegal activities have been compounded by the return of people who lived in cities and who, due to the economic crisis and unemployment caused by the pandemic, have had to return to rural areas.
"Situations of return of populations from the city to the communities, which have had to be welcomed again and assigned new spaces in order to withstand this particular situation, based on activities that may have involved increased deforestation," says the Ministry of the Environment in the written document that it sent to Mongabay Latam before the consultation on the causes of the increase in deforestation in 2020.
In 2020, Peru increased its commitments to the Climate Change Convention and defined its goal to reduce its emissions by 2030 by 40%, as well as reach zero carbon by 2050. However, for Ríos, the level of deforestation achieved in 2020 and that could be repeated in 2021 «puts at risk the fulfillment of the commitments assumed. I think there was no such assessment of what was happening during the pandemic and what will happen in the post-pandemic.
Main image: Deforestation in the territory of the Unipacuyacu native community. Photo: Christian Ugarte / Mongabay Latam.