“Creating a road just ruins it,” biostatistician Bill Pan told NPR’s Joanne Silberman in a recent story about the Amazon Rain forest. Scientists trekked through the Amazon in Peru, researching how the creation of roads through the pristine forest not only promotes deforestation, but increases the rate of infectious disease, particularly malaria.
Nearly one-fifth of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared since 1970, its loss spurred by construction of roads through pristine areas. The loss of the trees is a big blow to the world’s carbon balance, and a real force in climate change. And, according to three researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, road construction in places like the Amazon might also be a blow to human health.
The proof that the creation of roads increases disease and further deforestation is irrefutable.
A recently published survey of the Peruvian Amazon by Paulo Oliveira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and several colleagues shows that 75 percent of the forest disruption that occurred between 1999 and 2005 occurred within 12 miles of a road. And deforestation promotes malaria — researchers Amy Vittor and Jonathan Patz surveyed a newly constructed road and reported in 2006 that the areas along the road that had suffered more deforestation also suffered more malaria.
Roads bring more people into the forest, and create culverts and ditches for still water to pool, Pan explained. At the end of the journey, Pan was pleased that existing roads weren’t as ample as he’d guessed. "I learned that the parts of the road that look on the satellite image as cleared are actually not as cleared as it appears," he said. "And there’s not as many communities as we had thought there might be."
Still, Pan worries that when he returns, there will be more roads (bringing people, cars, mosquitoes, and pollution) through untouched expanses of the Amazon. Further destruction seems inevitable, unless construction is stopped. If developers have already destroyed one fifth—one fifth!—of the Amazon in 30 years, we’ve got to wonder: soon, will there be any left?
Photo via flickr by zerega.