The Amazonian wilderness is at risk of unprecedented damage from an ambitious plan to improve transport, communications and power generation in the region conservationists warned on Monday.
Development plans have been drawn up to boost trade links between 10 economic hubs on the continent, but threaten to bring “ a perfect storm of environmental destruction” to the world’s oldest rainforest, says a report from conversation international.
Projects to upgrade road and river transport, combined with work to create dams and lays\down extensive power and communications cabling, will open up previously inaccessible parts of the rainforest, raising the risk of widespread deforestation that could see the loss of the entire Amazon jungle  within 40 years, the environmental group said.
Tim Killeen, a scientist with conversation international, examined the projects funded under the multinational government backed initiative for the integration of the regional infrastructure of South America (IIRSA). He found that the environmental impact of individual  projects had often been well assessed , but there had been a failure to look at their collective impact on the region.
“Failure to foresee the impact of IIRSA investments, particularity in the context of climate change and global markets, will bring about combination of forces that could lead to a perfect storm of environmental destruction,” Dr Killeen said.
Damage to the ecosystem could have wide-ranging implications, according to the report. The Amazon river basin is the world’s largest reserve of fresh water, while the surrounding wilderness regulates the continental climate and rainfall that drives a multimillion pound agricultural industry. Empowered transport the Amazon will make it easier for inaccessible areas to be logged and burned, disrupting the ecosystems that support native species and indigenous populations.

The group urged the government backing the IIRSA to take greater account of the ecological impacts of the projects. If Amazon countries agreed to reduce deforestation rates by five per cent a year for 30 years, the saved forest would potentially qualify as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and generate more than $6.13 billion a year over the lifetime of the agreement, Dr Killeen said.
Bio fuel crops could be planted on the 647,497 square km of land that has already been deforested, and fish farms could exploit the natural water reserves, he said.