Study blames drug money for deforestation in Central America
Posted: 2017-May-19 08.00.01 UTC+0800
SAN FRANCISCO — A new study blames people throughout the spectrum of the narcotics trade purchasing enormous amounts of land to launder their illegal profits for deforestation in Central America.
The findings, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, point to an underlying cause of the fact that tropical forests in Central America are beginning to disappear at an alarming rate, threatening the livelihood of indigenous peoples there and endangering some of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in North America.
The problem is not the cultivation of the coca plant, which is processed into cocaine, that is leading to "narco-deforestation."
"Starting in the early 2000s, the United States-led drug enforcement in the Caribbean and Mexico pushed drug traffickers into places that were harder to patrol, like the large, forested areas of central America," explained David Wrathall, an Oregon State University (OSU) geographer and co-author on the study. "It turns out that one of the best ways to launder illegal drug money is to fence off huge parcels of forest, cut down the trees, and build yourself a cattle ranch. It is a major, unrecognized driver of tropical deforestation in Central America."
Using data from the Global Forest Change program estimating deforestation, the researchers identified irregular or abnormal deforestation from 2001-2014 that did not fit previously identified spatial or temporal patterns caused by more typical forms of land settlement or frontier colonization; and then using a set of 15 metrics developed from the data to determine the rate, timing and extent of deforestation, they estimated the degree to which narcotics trafficking contributes to forest loss.
The results were compared to data from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has been considered the best source for estimating cocaine flow through the Central American corridor.
The researchers estimate that cocaine trafficking may account for up to 30 percent of the total forest loss in Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua over the past decade, and a total of 30 to 60 percent of the forest losses occurred within nationally and internationally designated protected areas.
"Imagine the cloud of carbon dioxide from all of that burning forest," Wrathall was quoted as saying in a news release from OSU. "The most explosive change in land use happened in areas where land ownership isn't clear — in forested, remote areas of Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, where the question of who owns the land is murky."
The authors believe the solutions include de-escalating and demilitarizing the war on drugs; strengthening the position of indigenous peoples and traditional forest communities to be stewards of the remaining forest lands; and developing regional awareness of the issue. "Ending the illegal drug trade would be the best solution, but that isn't going to happen," Wrathall noted. "In fact, when drug enforcement efforts are successful, they often push the activity into remote areas that haven't had issues before, such as remote biodiversity hotspots." (PNA)