A Giant Eye on The Amazon

A Giant Eye on The Amazon
Posted by CN Staff on June 22, 2002 at 11:14:06 PT
By Patrice M. Jones, Foreign Correspondent
Source: Sun-Sentinel
Towering above the treetops near the Amazon's winding Rio Negro, a gigantic spinning radar points skyward, obscuring a splendid view of puffy white clouds. In a control room miles away, technicians sit transfixed to computer screens, gathering and analyzing the information the radar collects.The radar is only one piece of a complex jigsaw puzzle of some of the most advanced surveillance technology that will attempt to provide an electronic view of the darkest reaches of the planet's largest and most mysterious rain forest. 
Designed by Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co., the system will employ 19 fixed and six transportable radar stations, along with surveillance airplanes and other high-tech tools, that essentially will give Brazilian officials the equivalent of a giant microscope to observe what is happening on the jungle floor and in the sky over the Amazon.It will watch about 2 million square miles, more than half the area of the United States.More than a decade in the making, the $1.4 billion project known as SIVAM, for System for the Vigilance of the Amazon, is only weeks from its official inauguration.Experts say Brazil's high-tech effort is unique, the most ambitious attempt to date to better monitor, protect and understand the Amazon, a beautiful but lawless jungle frontier exploited by drug traffickers, illegal loggers and clandestine land-clearing that turns the sky into a red smoky haze during the burning season.Particularly for Brazil, already losing its drug war and fighting the threat of neighboring Colombia's leftist rebels crossing into Brazilian territory, launching the high-tech program also will monitor regions where there is no military control. "This is a very bold proposal," said air force Lt. Col. Jurandyr Fonseca, a spokesman and coordinator of the SIVAM program. "It is an attempt by the Brazilian government to try to bring the various government agencies together to protect the Amazon." Low-flying cocaine smuggling aircraft will have a harder time hiding over the dense jungle carpet because specially designed surveillance planes and air traffic control radars will be able to track their movements.Satellites and other special aircraft also will monitor land use, identify deforestation and track raging forest fires. The new web of technology can even help battle epidemics by allowing health officials to monitor the geographic spread of disease across remote jungle regions. Environmentalists say SIVAM also provides Brazil with a unique opportunity to improve its image as a poor protector of a rain forest that boasts the widest biodiversity on the planet.The Amazon region covers 60 percent of Brazilian territory, parts of seven other countries and is still largely a steamy wilderness.But the big-ticket satellite project also has raised troubling questions that expose some of Brazil's traditional failures in preserving the Amazon. "No one who is concerned about what is going on in the Amazon can rationally be against better data and the government having a greater capacity to control and measure what is going on in the Amazon," said Steve Schwartzman, a senior researcher with the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington, D.C. "But ... for many years the Brazilian government had a great deal of information about many misuses of the Amazon, such as deforestation, and did nothing about it."Niro Higuchi, a forestry expert at the National Amazon Research Institute, points out that technology is only one part of the solution. "If [Brazilian government officials] don't improve in this area of human resources, they will simply have lots of information that is never acted upon," Higuchi said."We cannot win the war against the Amazon crimes unless we harness the potential of this system," Fonseca said.Patrice M. Jones writes for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Co. newspaper. Source: South Florida Sun Sentinel (FL)Author: Patrice M. Jones, Foreign CorrespondentPublished: June 22, 2002Copyright: 2002 South Florida Sun-SentinelContact: letters sun-sentinel.comWebsite: http://www.sun-sentinel.comRelated Articles & Web Site: SIVAM from Colombia Threaten Ecuadoreans Amounts of Amazon Rainforest Being Lost
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