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Aerial view of a manganese mine, Serra do Navio, north of Macapa, State of Amapa, Brazil.
The Brazilian government has dismantled an Amazonian national reserve bigger than the size of Norway and has opened the area up for mining.
A decree from President Michel Temer published Wednesday abolished the protected status of the National Reserve of Copper and Associates (Renca), which is split between the Northern Brazilian states of Amapa and Para.
The 46,450 square kilometre reserve is more than twice the size of New Jersey State and is thought to be rich in minerals such as copper and gold.
Just under a third of the area (30 percent) will be opened up to mining, which the government said will help create jobs, generate income and combat illegal mining. However, activists argue that the move could damage the world’s largest and most diverse tropical rainforest.
In a statement released Wednesday, the government said permission to conduct mining would only be granted in areas not currently used for vegetation or homes.
“Permission to develop research and mining applies only to areas where there are no other restrictions, such as protection of native vegetation, conservation units, indigenous lands and areas in border strips.”
But Brazilian public policy coordination of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Michel de Souza, described the announcement as a “catastrophe”, which failed to consult the public and could leave the region vulnerable to corruption and conflict, O Globo reported.
A report released by the WWF last week warned that mining in the area would cause “demographic explosion, deforestation, the destruction of water resources, the loss of biodiversity and the creation of land conflict”.
Wednesday’s decree comes as the country reported a 21 percent fall in deforestation rates within the country’s Legal Amazon region, which includes Amapa and Para, in the two years from August 2015.
Renca has been protected from private mining since it was established as a national reserve in 1984.
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