Brazil’s BR-319 Highway Reconstruction to Cause More Harm Than Good

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With the danger reaching its essential moment, Brazil’s Manaus-Porto Velho highway, or the BR-319 highway reconstruction, together with its other affiliated projects, are yet to be executed. 

The president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the National Department of Highways (DNIT), formed the BR-319 working group (GT) in November 2023. The group was formed to look into the appropriate measures that would make the BR-319 highway’s undertaking environmentally sustainable. 

The project was included in the Amazon Regional Development Plan (PRDA), meant to take place from 2024-2027, in December 2023. A bill that would fast track the measure, which would pressure IBAMA (licensing agency) to sanction the reconstruction of the BR-319 project, was promoted by the Chamber of Deputies. The bill also allowed IBAMA to offer the directive for the government to provide funds. 

The main driving force behind the reconstruction of the BR-319 highway reconstruction

According to the Ministry of Transport Executive Secretary’s statements made in January 2024, President Lula is dedicated to reconstructing the BR-319 highway. It is expected that the BR-319 GT final report will be released soon.

The executive secretary said that GT report’s main objective is to look for ways they’d settle environmental licensing. After the mitigation measures were proposed, there was no plan for the working group to provide a neutral analysis that would respond to whether the project should be undertaken and answer the question on if the impact would be justified. 

It is expected that even huge areas located far from the road would be greatly impacted. 

A map showing the BR-319 highway.

The impacts are said not to be part of the existing talks organized by DNIT. As a result, they are not considered in the Environmental Impact Assessment. Currently one of deforestation hotspots in the Amazon, BR-319 highway would bring ranchers, farmers, land grabbers, and loggers to AMACRO region

Areas linked to Manaus via roads as well as areas that the planned roads would open up to connect to BR-319, like AM-366, would see the spread of these actors. Roraima, with two environmental controls, is among the areas that are expected to receive such deforesters. The Trans-Purus region is also expected to be opened up by the AM-366. The region is famous for its vast area covered with forest, in Amazonas west state.

Who will approve the construction of the side roads?

Also, part of the BR-319 project impact, are the side roads which will link to BR-319, for example AM-366. A laxer Amazonas state environmental agency would approve these side roads. This is because they will be state highways, escaping federal licensing. 

This means that they will have less protection since the governor has the power to order the agency to approve anything he wants effectively.

The creation of conservation units was one of the topics that were being talked about. It is said that all undesignated public forest land should be taken as private property. Furthermore, these undesignated assets should be turned into conservation units or indigenous lands. 

BR-319 highway was declared by the Minister of Transport as the most sustainable and greenest highway in August 2023.

However, the negative impacts that would be brought by the reconstruction of the BR-319 highway would be huge. It is said that even the Brazilian government will not have the capacity to contain them. The sustenance of the city of Sao Paulo is among the risks posed by the project. This will jeopardize the country’s most basic interest.

Looming danger on the environment

The BR-319 and its AM-366, AM-343 projects threaten the forest in the Trans-Purus region. The forest around this region is Sao Paulo, main source of water. It is important to preserve the forest around the BR-319 project so that global warming can be prevented from passing the tipping point. Failure to do that could be catastrophic for the country. 

It is also said that the BR-319 highway reconstruction is the only project in Brazil that lacks a Technical, Economic and Environmental Feasibility Study (EVTEA).

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