The Amazon Rainforest covers over a billion acres, encompassing areas in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and the Eastern Andean region of Ecuador and Peru. The Amazon represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests, and comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world, with an estimated 390 billion individual trees divided into 16,000 species. One hectare (2.47 acres) may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants. One-fifth of the world’s fresh water is also in the Amazon Basin. One hectare (2.47 acres) may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants.
Unfortunately, since 1970 over 333,000 square miles of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed in Brazil. Since the year 2000 an area equal to 50 football fields are being destroyed every minute. More than two-thirds of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is for cattle ranching.
The annual rate of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest continues to increase yearly. It is estimated that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation. As the rainforest species disappear, so do many possible cures for life-threatening diseases. Currently, 121 prescription drugs sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. While 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients. Vincristine, extracted from the rainforest plant, periwinkle, is one of the world’s most powerful anticancer drugs. It has dramatically increased the survival rate for acute childhood leukemia since its discovery. The U.S. National Cancer Institute recognizes 3000 plants that are active against deadly cancer cells.
Rainforests are vital in other ways as well. The Amazon rainforest has been described as the “lungs of our planet” because it provides the essential environmental world service of continuously recycling carbon dioxide into oxygen. More than 20 percent of the world oxygen is produced in the Amazon rainforest.
The razing of the rainforest is a major contributor to the emissions that drive climate change. About 75 percent of Brazil’s emissions come from rainforest clearing, as vegetation burns and felled trees rot, making Brazil at least the sixth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. Trees provide a vital store of carbon. The Amazon rainforest is considered one of the world’s most important natural defenses against global warming because of its capacity to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide.
While the protection of the Amazon rainforest remains an issue, deforestation rates have been reducing while areas of conserved land have been increasing over the last 10 years.