Challenges in the Amazon Basin: Environment, Security, and Governance

  • Jazmine Aroutiounian

Environmental damage, climate change, insecurity, inequality, and poverty are some of the many challenges faced by people living in the Amazon Basin. As these issues have such a wide impact, it is expected that the region’s governments will address them.

Regional governments may struggle with environmental governance due to the proliferation of illicit actors, including drug traffickers, mining operations, timber and exotic species collection and using land to launder money in countries of the Amazon Basin. The magnitude of the infiltration of these harmful actors makes controlling these spaces challenging.

To escape crime and criminality brought by illicit actors, many citizens of the Amazon, mainly indigenous people, must leave their villages. The main cause of their departure is the destruction of protected areas in the Amazon region, as well as the labor exploitation that many indigenous people receive when working in outside companies that operate in this region. According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), more than 37 percent of indigenous territories are at risk from nearly 500 mining contracts for mineral and hydrocarbon exploitation, making indigenous people extremely vulnerable to labor exploitation and human trafficking. The abandonment of the region’s governments to this problem is visible, as these issues are not being treated or close to being eradicated.

Governments in the region do not take this matter as seriously as they should. Presidents have taken advantage of this phenomenon in different ways, seeking their own convenience instead of that of the planet and their citizens. Autocrats like Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega are especially untrustworthy when it comes to environmental governance. Instead of facing these problems, they ignore the demands of citizens, such as calls to protect Amazonian territories specifically affected by companies seeking petroleum and minerals, the preservation of water, the eradication of logging and hunting of animals, among others, and look for ways in which they could profit from environmental problems.

The basin plays a crucial role in global oxygen production and carbon storage, influencing the Earth’s climate and weather patterns.

This creates a larger issue, which is, if governments do not address issues of high importance for the citizens, and instead silence them, environmental problems or climate change in the Amazon region will not be reduced or eradicated.

IRI is working to improve key subnational stakeholders’ ability to collectively address environmental challenges, to raise awareness and understanding among national leaders about local environmental challenges, and to improve coordination between subnational and national levels on these issues.

IRI’s programming prioritizes these issues and has been a bridge between civil society and local governments to address these problems. IRI works with partners and local stakeholders around the Amazon to develop a road map to build local resiliency and preparedness to address environmental crises.

This March, IRI carried out a series of subnational collective action campaigns. Together with local partner, Fundación Contra La Violencia (Foundation Against Violence, FUCVI), IRI convened roundtables in three provinces of the Ecuadorian Amazon: Morona Santiago, Pastaza, and Napo. The workshops addressed stakeholder mapping, identification of local environmental challenges and solutions, and the development of an advocacy plan.

Similarly, in April, IRI held multisectoral roundtables in two provinces of the Colombian Amazon: Leticia and Florencia. Two different local partners (Amazonas sin Límites (Limitless Amazon) and Fundación Picachos (Picachos Foundation)) executed the project in each of the provinces. The objective of the roundtables was to identify environmental challenges, to increase participants’ understanding of available resources, and to discuss actions that can be promoted collectively to improve environmental governance.

To address environmental problems, it is crucial to strengthen democratic institutions by considering the opinion and requirements of citizens and giving journalists the freedom to speak and publish about such issues. Corruption harms citizens as well as the planet and must be fought with transparency. It is essential that governments be allies of the citizens rather than of those who harm the Amazon region.

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