As issues around the world’s natural resources become increasingly transparent, there is a chance that we will see an overall decrease in the incidence of deforestation linked to narcotic drug trafficking—otherwise known as the “narco-effect”. Though it is early to say, this would potentially impact not only matters of conservation but also national security, politics, and indigenous rights.
As of late, there has been a lot of coverage concerning the rate at which deforestation is occurring globally. In particular Google and Microsoft have collaborated with a number of organizations including the UN Environment Program and the World Resources Institute (WRI) to create a system to monitor deforestation in (approximate) real-time. The goal is to create transparency with how the world’s resources are used and to crowd-source the monumental effort of monitoring them.
In particular one region of the globe that will be closely scrutinized using these new monitoring systems are some of the smaller countries in Central America. Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala are all small countries in which the rate of deforestation can be up to 10 percent a year. Part of this rapid deforestation process is attributed to what researchers call the “narco-effect” or “narco-deforestation.” The narco-effect refers to the systematic cutting down of rain forests that occurs when narcotic drug trafficking or money from drug trafficking enters a region. Forests are first cleared to make roads and landing strips for the easier transport of drugs. These transportation routes are generally built-in poor and remote areas where government control is quite weak. The illegal construction both brings much-needed capital to the region and emboldens others to break the law as well. This quickly leads to deforestation as ranchers, speculators, and oil-palm growers seek to develop the land to their own ends. In addition, drug dealers themselves may find it lucrative to buy and clear forests that they then sell back as “improved land.”
The narco-effect is further exacerbated by the fear that it creates in local communities. Many indigenous groups live on lands that are subject to the narco-effect, but they will not speak out for fear of violent retaliation from drug-traffickers. The threat is violence is quite severe, and it has been suggested that the only way to address it is with military force.
However with the advent of Global Forest Watch, there is a chance that this could change. As conservationist organizations and the public keep a watchful eye on the world’s forests, the hope is that someone will spot any unusual activity the smaller countries of Central America. If that were the case, then perhaps activists could quickly draw attention to the matter. Many of the problems associated with the narco-effect stem from the lack of awareness from local governments and the inability of victims to safely voice their plight. Therefore a global team of watchdogs could potentially create drastic changes in a familiar progression.
To conclude, when addressing issues as large as global deforestation, it is important to keep in mind that this is not simply an issue of there being enough trees in the world. As seen with the narco-effect, issues of politics, economics, and social justice are also at hand.
By Sarah Takushi