Letter: Forests in peril

Sir: You report (27 January) that "Amazon rainforest destruction slows". The latest figures show that the current rates of deforestation in the Amazon are now above the alarming levels witnessed during the late 1980s, when there was extensive international concern about the loss of one of the world's most precious habitats.

In 1995, 29,000 square kilometres of rainforest was lost, compared with 14,000 square kilometres in 1994. This is the single most catastrophic figure for Amazon deforestation ever recorded, and represents an area of loss almost the size of Belgium in one year. This appalling fact was suppressed by the Brazilian government for over a year, in the hope of avoiding embarrassing publicity. The figure for 1996 shows a loss of 18,000 square kilometres, well above 1994 levels and disastrously high by any standards. The "lower rate" of loss quoted for 1997 is an unreliable guess of the Brazilian government, and uses no satellite or other comprehensive data.

The logging of timber is one of the most destructive forces within the rainforest, and Brazil is the UK's biggest supplier of tropical timber. Levels of timber use must be reduced as a matter of urgency and the international timber industry must be forced to conduct logging in a sustainable manner.