In the Brazilian Amazon, environmentalists, scientists and politicians are facing one of the most difficult challenges of our time. If the earth's lungs collapse, the planet itself will collapse. This three-part series, The Fight for Amazonia, looks at the efforts being made to save the rainforest - not simply revealing how bleak the prospects are, but documenting the avenues that raise hope.
Amazonia is much more than just the earth's lungs: it is home to 20 per cent of the world's fauna, 20 per cent of its fresh water reserves and countless animal species.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Brazil started the conquest of the massive ancient forest in order to increase the country's prosperity - a people without land moved to a land without people, built roads, dams and cities.
Since then, two million hectares of tropical rainforest have been burned down and cleared in the Amazon every year.
An area approximately the same size as France, 65 million hectares, has now disappeared.
Today, the earth's largest forest is home to 20 million people: All of them have their own, usually conflicting, ideas about the future development of the Amazon region.
Raids in the Rainforest
A film by Thomas Wartmann
At the age of 27, Ana Rafaela D'Amico is the youngest national park director in Brazil. In order to save the rainforest, she has declared war on the drug gangs and logging mafia and on illegal fishing.
The Campos Amazonicos National Park is like a microcosm of all the problems found in Amazonia: illegal logging, cattle breeding, tin mines - and a drugs route that goes right through the middle of the park.
"Our biggest problem here in the park - and all over the Amazon - is that we don't know who the men behind this environmental crime are. We always find the poor man hired to occupy or clear the land. But we seldom find out who is really behind it, who provides the money, or which politicians support and fund these criminal acts."
Ana Rafaela has been fighting ardently to preserve the rainforest ever since she took over the management of the park a few years ago. She has already achieved a great deal, yet the obstacles the young woman from the city faces remain formidable.
"Unfortunately some people don't understand the value of nature. It's so short-sighted. They think only of profit, of making a fast buck for themselves. If these people could realise that they can profit from the forest without having to damage it, if they were to use it sustainably they would see that making a quick profit doesn't solve their problems ....
"Protecting nature is not a priority for the government. The economy always comes first, along with industry and the country's development. Nature always comes second, or third."
For Ana Rafaela nature conservation means a life without compromises, a life which sometimes requires a "cold heart".
She has to confront an invisible enemy: it is a struggle of dangers and bitterly fought successes. The small players she can catch and has to take away their livelihood, but there is often little she can do against the big players.
"The law applies to everyone, rich or poor. We must implement the law and do our job. For the sake of the forest. These are the moments when we really have to be cold-hearted. We cannot give in to our feelings if we want to save the Amazon Rainforest."
And yet, Ana Rafaela's efforts do bear fruit. Since she has been managing the park, illegal fishing has declined and no new mines have been opened. She believes in her success, and that it is possible to save Amazonia if everyone does their bit. She will not give up - this is the only way she knows.
Source: Al Jazeera