Why are rainforests important? More than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced in the South American Amazon Rainforest. Over half of the world’s known plant and animal species live tropical rainforests. Many scientists believe that millions of plant and insect species in rainforests have still to be identified. The people who have lived in South American rainforests for thousands of years have a deep knowledge and understanding of the plants and animals that live there. Currently 25% of our medicines are derived from rainforest plants, and it is thought that less than 10% of the plants used by Amerindian peoples have been studied by scientists. South American rainforests are home to around 200 different peoples speaking 170 different languages.
What is the problem? 6,000m2 of rainforest is cleared every second, mostly by chainsaws, fires and bulldozers. The picture shows the Rio Guaycuyacu in Ecuador which is about to be flooded as part of a hydroelectric dam scheme. Meanwhile the Cofan people have been fighting pollution on their land caused by oil extraction for years. Around 137 plant and animal species are being lost every day due to rainforest destruction. Deforestation also affects the people of the rainforest. Over the first half of the 20th century, 55 entire groups of rainforest people vanished from the Brazilian Amazon, along with all their knowledge of the plants and animals they had lived with for centuries.
Why are rainforests being destroyed? The trees are sold for timber, but clearance is usually carried out as part of oil and mineral exploration, road-building, cattle ranching or plantations for palm oil or soya.
How can I help? There are many excellent organisations dedicated to helping protect South American tropical rainforests and the people, plants and animals that live there. By supporting these organisations you can find out ways you can help protect rainforest life and also learn more about rainforests.
Here are some links to get you started:
Rainforest Action Network: http://ran.org/
Amazon Watch: http://amazonwatch.org/
Cultural Survival; http://www.culturalsurvival.org/?gclid=CNuT7L7CwLYCFa3HtAodDg4Alg
Survival International: http://www.survivalinternational.org/
Rainforest Alliance: www.rainforest-alliance.org.uk/
World Land Trust: http://www.worldlandtrust.org/
World Wildlife Fund: http://www.wwf.org.uk/