Vanishing Forests: Deforestation in Venezuela 2016-2021



Forests are ecosystems of enormous ecological, social and economic importance. However, deforestation is growing at a dizzying pace across the world. This destruction is generating devastating effects on human societies by losing the contributions of these ecosystems, including their role in the fight against climate change.

Deforestation in Venezuela is a problem that dates back a long time, resulting in a significant decrease in the forest area of the country. In the last 20 years, the expansion of gold mining, together with the Complex Humanitarian Emergency, seems to have accelerated this process.

The objective of this report is to contribute to the knowledge of the current situation of deforestation in the country and its effects on human rights. To this end, the researchers collected information obtained from Global Forest Watch, which provides deforestation data from remote sensing. Other sources of information were also used to contextualize the situation.

The most relevant findings were: 1. Venezuela has a high rate of deforestation, a trend that has accelerated in the last five years. 2. Deforestation affected natural forests -those with very little intervention- to a greater extent. 3. Venezuela’s deforestation rate is relatively low compared to other Amazonian countries, but it is the country that lost the most natural forests in the entire region. 4. The main causes of deforestation are shifting cultivation, Deforestation for obtaining basic resources, and forest fires. The latter seems to be becoming increasingly important. 5. The effects of small-scale mining on forests are not easy to estimate through remote sensing, but local measurements indicate that the country has lost an important forest area due to this activity. 6. Five states of the country concentrate 57% of national deforestation. Two of them are heavily affected by illegal mining.

This situation may be the reflection of four connected situations: The lack of political will on the part of the State to protect the country’s forests; the establishment of an economic policy based on looting mining; the loss of the institutional capacities of the State to manage the forest ecosystems of the country, and a serious humanitarian crisis that leads a part of the population to resort to the exploitation of the forests as a form of livelihood.

Under these circumstances, it is very difficult for the Venezuelan State to meet the targets established for SDG15, as well as the Aichi Targets.

Based on the foregoing, the following recommendations were made to the Venezuelan State:  Establish a comprehensive national policy for the conservation of forest ecosystems as fundamental components of national development and the overcoming of the current humanitarian crisis. Establish a process of re-institutionalization of the country’s environmental institutions, including their technical, political and economic strengthening. Hasten the design of a new National Strategy for the Conservation of Biological Diversity with a human rights approach under the international obligations assumed by the State. Establish a national research funding policy that supports scientific studies on the situation of the country’s forest ecosystems. Progressively eradicate mining extractivism as a means of financing the State, and facilitate public access to information on forests. Guarantee the participation of all stakeholders in decision-making on forest management, and promote education programs on these issues at all levels of instruction.

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