Environmental Destruction

The environmental implications of the fumigation are also a serious attack on the people, as well as the biodiversity and ecology of Colombia. The chemicals used to fumigate indiscriminately destroy flora and fauna and pollute the already fragile rainforests of Colombia - rainforests that contain approximately 10% of the world’s terrestrial plant and animal species.

Of major concern are the Canangucha Palm trees, which form strange oasis-like growths sustaining other plants and an array of different animals and are a unique part of the Amazonian ecosystem. The Palms also support local indigenous people, providing fiber for clothes and roofing, as well as food and water. Clouds and rainwater containing Glyphosate have contaminated the Palms leaving them without their useful sponge like properties, which in turn causes them to dry out and destroy the surrounding eco-system that depends on them. The indigenous people that are reliant on the oases created by the tress are subsequently forced to abandon their lands only adding to environmental the damage when they move on to other areas of the forest.

The chemicals used contaminate sprayed areas for at least 6 months rendering the terrain infertile and turning it into land that is of no use to the campesino. As described above, without a livelihood the campesino is forced from the land, and in many cases will then use the ‘slash and burn’ technique to create new land for cultivation - deeper and deeper into the rainforest. This is a hugely destructive influence on the forests of Colombia as July 1999 statistics from the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicate, "The cultivation of the coca plant alone has since it’s inception destroyed between 160,000 and 240,000 hectares of tropical jungle in the Orinoco and Amazon basins; and…[is responsible for] 30% of annual deforestation estimated in Colombia." This rate of deforestation is surely set to increase rapidly alongside the massive increase that is projected in the US fumigation program in coming years.

Even more worrying is that the deforestation of land in Colombia, as a result of fumigation, is a repetitive cycle. As fumigation reaches further into the forest to destroy coca cultivation and pollutes ever-greater areas, the campesinos will be forced to search for new land even deeper in the jungles. The fumigation planes will no doubt eventually find them there too and the process will be continued. This pattern is threatening already endangered plants and animals as many wildlife and environmental pressure groups have already pointed out.

The environmental effects of the fumigation program in Colombia have also been reported in Ecuador and it can be safely assumed that Peru and Brazil are already, or will in the near future, face similar scenarios. The transport of chemicals by waterways is a particular worry for regional contamination, especially as much of the spraying goes on near rivers that flow down into Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. Accion Ecologica, an Ecuadorian environmental organization, stated that crops and livestock are suffering negative effects in northern Ecuador as Glyphosate, moving in water and the wind, reaches soil in the departments bordering Colombia.

Despite all the eradication efforts - and the related suffering caused to the people and environment in the effected areas - the US fumigation program has, as of yet, made little ground. A joint UN and Colombian survey recently indicated that in 2000 the area devoted to cultivating coca actually increased to over 400,000 acres. In comments earlier this week, Mathea Falco, the director of the US-based non-profit research group Drugs Strategies, pointed out that "heroin and cocaine are cheaper and more available than ever before and it [the ‘War on Drugs’] has not decreased or reduced either the supply of drugs not the number of hard-core drug addicts."