Brazil Makes Defending the Amazon a National Security Priority

The Amazon Protection System (SIPAM) is now part of the structure of the Defense Ministry — a strong indication that Brazil regards the defense of its vast rainforest region as a matter of national security.
Isabel Estrada | 21 November 2011

Trees line a river in this pristine view of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. [Credit: SIPAM]

The Amazon Protection System (SIPAM) is now part of the structure of the Defense Ministry — a strong indication that Brazil regards the defense of its vast rainforest region as a matter of national security.

Defense Minister Celso Amorin visited SIPAM’s operational center in Brasília to get acquainted first-hand with the many projects of the technological park in October. Ari Matos, the head of institutional coordination and organization, and his special adviser, José Genoino, accompanied Amorin on his tour.

SIPAM works in coordination with states and municipalities that have a hand in policies in the region known as Legal Amazonia. Its partners also include the Armed Forces and the Federal Police, said Rogério Guedes, SIPAM’s general director.

The Legal Amazonia, an administrative division established by the Brazilian government to better promote the region’s development, covers the states of Acre, Amapá, Amazonas, Mato Grosso, Pará, Rondônia, Roraima and Tocantins, as well as all of Maranhão state west of the 44th parallel.

This vast yet sparsely populated region is home to about 21 million residents. Its population density is only 3.67 inhabitants per square kilometer, yet it has the fastest population growth in Brazil.

SIPAM is part of several policy forums, such as the Brazilian Council of Intelligence, the National Commission of Cartography and the National Committee of Operation Arco Verde, said Guedes.

The objective of Arco Verde — led by the Western Military Command and based in the city of Sinop — was to fight deforestation and other illegal environmental activity in northern Mato Grosso state.

Launched by the federal government, it involved the ministries of defense, justice and environment. The Ministry of Environment has since reported deforestation in Mato Grosso dropped by 74 percent between 2004 and 2010.

SIPAM at work

Among SIPAM’s specialties are deforestation, radiation detection and meteorology. With local logistical support, it also applies geoprocessing and remote sensoring techniques to be able to define the effects of human activity as well as mitigation measures put in place.

SIPAM has significantly modernized the technological park. Among other things, it has bought a high-resolution camera, the ADS80, which generates continuous digital images during flight.

This type of camera produces images with a resolution of up to five centimeters of terrain, with a higher quality than satellite images generated by commercial orbital sensors currently on the market.

Guedes said the ADS80 will serve aerial remote sensoring mission monitoring by partner entities.

SIPAM has also partnered with the Ministry of Environment on the Bolsa Verde project, which offers financial incentives to small farmers and rural producers who take measures to preserve the environment.

“We will monitor remotely, with radars or satellites, to ensure that families who benefit from the program are living up to their commitment and not contributing to deforestation,” Guedes explained during Amorin’s visit.

Brasília is home to headquarters of the Amazon Protection System. [Credit: SIPAM]

The technique is used by the Terra Legal Program. SIPAM has been monitoring areas aided by this program, in which owners have specific targets for the conservation of green areas.

In a partnership with the Ministry of Social Development, to support its program Brasil Sem Miséria, SIPAM will install 166 antennas for satellite communication that will bring internet services to remote Amazon municipalities in the states of Acre, Pará, Amapá, Maranhão, Mato Grosso, Roraima and Amazonas.

With this equipment, the municipal officials will register impoverished families in the Federal Government Register for Social Programs. “It is SIPAM’s technological infrastructure contributing to broaden the access to government programs in the region,” Guedes said.

SIPAM is working with the Army, Navy and the Geological Service of Brazil in the effort to develop the region’s cartography. This has a 350 million-reai project to develop topographic, nautical and geological charts of the so-called Amazonian “cartographic vacuum.”

SIPAM ventures into telemedicine

Protecting the Amazonia isn’t just about saving the trees. It also includes taking care of its people and connecting them to the world. That’s why SIPAM is venturing into telemedicine with its announcement last October of a cooperative agreement with the Federal University of the Amazonas (UFAM), the Francisca Mendes University Hospital (HUFM) and the State Secretariat of Health (SUSAM).

Telemedicine is the use of electronic communications to exchange medical information to improve patient care, diagnosis and treatment. In remote locations of Brazil, specialty care, second opinions and extended care are near-luxuries.

Among other things, SIPAM will install satellite antennas for teleconsultation uses in the municipalities of Coari, Humaitá, Itacoatiara and Benjamin Constant.

“This partnership with SIPAM, besides allowing teleconsultations, will help us with distance learning,” said Pedro Elias de Souza, general director of Francisca Mendes Hospital. “We already have 12 study topics, along with cardiology lessons which will be possible to do.”

Amazonas is the first Brazilian state to integrate all of its municipalities to the State Telehealth Program, which allows tests and specialist consultations via satellite.

Local general-practice doctors perform their procedures, and then share the data, sounds and images in real time with teams of specialists in Manaus, as well as with other doctors who can respond to emergency calls anytime via smartphone.

The VSAT antennas that SIPAM uses are easily transportable and double up in support of many of its partners’ projects. Seven satellite communications antennas support the operations of the army’s 17th Jungle Infantry Brigade as well as the Regional Electoral Court in the remote states of Rondônia and Acre.

“Promoting access to communications in the Amazonian region is one of the premises of SIPAM,” said José Neumar da Silveira, manager of the SIPAM Regional Center in Porto Velho. “That’s why we are always willing to help our partners in operations or in their permanent bases.”

Another SIPAM project aims to complete biometric registration of voters in Porto Velho, sending fingerprints and documents via Internet in areas where there would be no other access to the network. This is crucial, since people who aren’t registered won’t be able to vote in the 2012 municipal elections.

SIPAM’s equipment is also used by the 17th Brigade in Operation Curare III, which began in September and seeks to intensify surveillance in the states of Rondônia and Acre, which border Bolivia and Peru.

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