Lungs of the world
The Amazon rainforest – often referred to as the
lungs of the world – has a major influence on the world’s climate. Its trees and
vegetation act as a vital carbon sink, soaking up carbon dioxide from the
Megaron Txucarramãe, a long-time campaigner for
land rights for indigenous tribes in the Amazon region, sits alongside Chief
Raoni, his uncle.
“The logging in our region is increasing,” he
says. “Our lands and those of other indigenous tribes should be properly
demarcated, but the Brazilian government is seeking to alter the constitution
and undermine our land rights, giving more power to loggers, dam builders and
“We went to Brasilia [Brazil’s capital] to
protest, but we were received with rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray.
While the government worries about building stadiums for the World Cup, our land
is being threatened. I would like to ask the world to pay attention to our
problems and help us.”
In a tour of European capitals that coincided with
the opening of the World Cup, the two tribal leaders met Prince Albert of Monaco
and, in London, Prince Charles. They also took their message to the Norwegian
The Kayapò are by far the largest ethnic group in
the Xingu region. After years of campaigning and sometimes violent struggle, the
group succeeded in having 19,000 square miles of land demarcated as an
indigenous reserve in 1992.
The tribal leaders say the government of President
Dilma Rousseff – which faces an election in October – is now threatening the
land rights of indigenous groups and the health of the whole Amazon by allowing
mining and other projects to go ahead.
In recent years, Brazil has embarked on a
wide-ranging dam building programme in the Amazon. The Xingu river, a major
tributary of the Amazon river, runs through the Kayapò’s lands. Despite various
court judgements and continuing protests by the Kayapò and other groups,
construction of the Belo Monte dam − which will be one of the world’s biggest
when it is completed − began on the Xingu in 2011.
After years of decline in deforestation rates in
the Amazon rainforest, they then increased dramatically by 28% over the 2012 to
2013 period, with many blaming controversial reforms to Brazil’s forest laws
pushed through by a powerful and extremely wealthy land lobby.
In recent months, large parts of Brazil have been
suffering a drought that is one of the worst on record. Environmentalists say
deforestation in the Amazon has disturbed weather patterns and has resulted in
less rainfall in many areas.
Patrick Cunningham, who has travelled extensively
through the Xingu region, photographing and documenting the lives of the
indigenous tribes, is a spokesman for Tribes Alive, a group that highlights
indigenous peoples’ issues.
He said: “Chief Metuktire and Megaron are not only
asking for an end to the destruction of their lands, they are also campaigning
to stop what is a suicidal rush to develop their region.
“Such actions will not only be a setback for them
but also for the whole of Brazil as rain patterns alter farther south, in what
is the most agriculturally productive region of the country.”
Source: Climate News Network