“Bridge to Drive Urban Growth in Heart of Amazon
By Mario Osava
MANAUS, Brazil, May 26, 2010 (IPS) – The 74 pillars that will hold up the bridge over the Negro river to join this major city in Brazil’s Amazon jungle to nearby urban districts have mostly been laid, without environmental protests or major debates on the impact of a fast-growing metropolitan area in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.
The 3,595-metre long bridge is a symbol of the triumph of the automobile over river transport in an area where rivers have historically been the only highways.
The bridge will join together cities separated by the Negro river, which were formally united in the Metropolitan Region of Manaus (RMM) in 2007 by the government of Amazonas, which is Brazil’s largest state and is home to the greatest forest and water resources in the country.
“The Manaus-Iranduba bridge has no meaning without the Metropolitan Region and vice versa,” the head of the project, René Levy, the state government’s secretary of the RMM, told IPS.
The idea is to expand the development driven in Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, by the free trade zone originally created in 1967.
Thanks to tax incentives, the Manaus industrial district took shape in this city in Brazil’s extreme northwest. Despite its distance from the huge markets of central and southern Brazil, the district is now the country’s leading producer of electronic goods, motorcycles and other durable consumer goods.
This city of 1.7 million people, which represents half of the population of the entire state, is a big magnet for human and natural resources from surrounding areas, without a counterflow, Levy said.
But the bridge, to be opened at the end of the year, will facilitate access to the huge Manaus market, fuelling explosive growth in agricultural production in the municipalities on the other side of the Negro river, Paulo Ricardo Carrilho, sales manager at the Iranduba Agricultural Cooperative (COAPIR), told IPS.
Because of the isolation of Manaus, most supplies of perishable products are shipped in, mainly by air, from distant parts of Brazil.
The city is only connected by paved road (BR-174) to Boa Vista, the capital of the state of Roraima, to the north, and from there to Venezuela and the Caribbean coast.
The municipalities of Iranduba, Manacapurú and Novo Airão, which have abundant fertile land, should logically be major suppliers of food to Manaus. But farmers and fisherfolk there face a major barrier: a cost of 50 to 100 reals (28 to 56 dollars) for each truck ferried across the river.
The bridge — which will be toll-free “because it is a public service,” as Levy explained — will replace the riverboats and reduce the crossing time from half an hour (plus the time spent waiting in what are often long lines, especially on weekends) to just four minutes.
“My guests won’t have to leave five hours ahead of time to catch the plane at the Manaus airport, and they won’t miss their flights because the riverboats aren’t operating,” Francisco Vasconcelos, owner of the Posada Amazonia, a 30-room jungle lodge, told IPS.
The new bridge will also fuel further growth of ecotourism, which will help curb the deforestation driven by the city’s economic and population growth, said Vasconcelos, who comes from a family of “15 brothers and sisters who have always lived in Manacapurú,” 80 km from Manaus. The lodge is located along the road to that town.
Iranduba, which is closer to Manaus, has dozens of brick factories. But Levy predicted that as the free trade zone expands thanks to the bridge, the town’s industry will grow and diversify.
The nine riverboats currently in service take some 2,500 vehicles a week across the river, 15 percent of which are large trucks loaded with bricks and ceramic products.
Of the 25,000 to 30,000 passengers ferried across every week, many are university students who commute up to four hours a day to attend class in Manaus, Marinaldo Matos, press officer at the Sociedade de Navegação, Portos e Hidrovias do Estado do Amazonas, the state office that runs the ferries, told IPS.
The construction of what will be the biggest river bridge in Brazil will absorb one million sacks of cement and is being financed by Brazil’s national development bank, the BNDES. The original cost was projected at 574 million reals (320 million dollars), but later grew “25 percent,” Levy said.
Some concern has been expressed over the bridge’s future effects in terms of growing deforestation, pressure on fragile ecosystems like wetlands and preserved wildlife areas, and the rising cost of land, as a result of the expected economic and population growth in the municipalities across the river from Manaus.
However, the economic and social benefits of the project have apparently quietened its critics, and there have been no significant public protests by environmentalists.
Land whose price was previously quoted by hectare is now sold by square metre, and prices have risen tenfold or more in some spots in Iranduba, Matos said.
This phenomenon will drive the poor living on the outskirts of Greater Manaus into more remote areas, where they will clear and settle land in the jungle, leading to further deforestation.
There will also be a loss of biodiversity and an increase in social inequality, anthropologist Alfredo Wagner, coordinator of the Nova Cartografia Social da Amazônia project, told IPS.
Several universities are involved in the project, which is mapping out the different cultural and social groups in the Amazon jungle region.
Greenpeace Amazon campaigner Paulo Adario told IPS that the expansion of the Manaus metropolitan region will drive the illegal settlement of protected areas, like the Jaú National Park and the Anavilhanas archipelago, despite their distance from the city.
But Albertino de Souza Carvalho, a professor at the Federal University of Amazonas, which coordinated the project’s environmental impact study, remarked to IPS that while the urban growth “will necessitate greater care,” construction of the bridge has proceeded “smoothly, without any violations” of standards and regulations.
Levy, meanwhile, said the “strategic plan” drawn up to accompany construction of the bridge will prevent negative impacts by providing for proper zoning of economic and environmental areas and protecting the most vulnerable zones.
The roads that will see heavier traffic as a result of the bridge already exist, he also noted.
Furthermore, he said, the project has helped fill a “knowledge gap” on the geology of the Negro river and surrounding natural areas.
But in the future, the bridge will facilitate the reconstruction of the BR-319 highway, which links Manaus with Porto Velho, the capital of Rondonia state, nearly 900 km to the south. The highway was originally built in 1973 but fell into disuse and has been impassable for years.
The repaving of the road cutting straight through the rainforest poses an extreme risk of deforestation. Environment Ministry figures indicate that 75 percent of deforestation in the Amazon over the last decade has occurred in strips up to 50 km wide on either side of roads running through the jungle.
To completely break the isolation of Manaus, one other bridge, over the Solimões river, would also be needed. “That would be fantastic, because Greater Manaus would thus be integrated with the rest of Brazil and connected to the Pacific ocean,” besides the existing road northwards to the Caribbean, Levy said.
The city is located on the north bank of the Negro river and its confluence with the Solimões river, which extends eastward as the Amazon river.”
(Quelle: IPS News.)