SAO PAULO, Brazil — Destruction of Brazil's vast Amazon rain forest appeared to accelerate slightly over the past year after slowing since 2004, the government said on Friday.
The National Space Research Institute announced that satellite images showed a total of 4,633 square miles (12,000 square kilometers) were deforested from August of 2007 through July 2008 — an area about twice the size of the state of Delaware, or one-fourth of Switzerland.
That's about 3.8 percent more land deforested than the 4,440 square miles (11,500 square kilometers) destroyed during the previous 12-month period.
The space institute said the 3.8 increase fell within the survey's 5 percentage point margin of error.
Environment Minister Carlos Minc said that an even larger reversal was anticipated, on the order of 5,400 square miles (14,000 square kilometers).
The Agencia Brasil news service quoted Minc as saying deforestation had been «stabilized.»
But stabilization is not enough, he said: «What I want is zero deforestation.»
Annual deforestation reached a high of 27,380 square kilometers (10,570 square miles) in 2004 — more than twice the current rate.
Deforestation picked up in late 2007 and early 2008, as commodity prices increased.
Environmentalists say increased demand for agricultural products, particularly soy and beef, prompted farmers to carve fields and pastures from the rain forest.
Carlos Alberto Scaramuzza, of the World Wildlife Fund, told Agencia Brasil the latest deforestation figures were a «positive surprise.»
He agreed with Minc that they indicated a certain stabilization.
But Paulo Adario, director of Greenpeace's Amazon campaign, said the new destruction numbers «represent a setback because they reverse the downward trend verified over the past three years.»
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