Can Drones be Used to Fight Eco-Trafficking in Latin America?

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With indigenous communities in Panama and Peru reportedly planning to use drones to monitor rainforest destruction, this raises all kinds of possibilities for how drones could be used in the future to detect environmental crimes like timber trafficking and illegal mining. 

The plans were discussed at the recent 2014 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, which included the exhibition of the first images from test drone flights showing oil spills in the Peruvian Amazon, reported EFE.

One specialist from Peruvian indigenous rights group Aidesep told EFE that the drones would help gather evidence of violations committed by companies working in the Amazon. Another Peruvian indigenous association told EFE they are interested in using drones to ensure that certain indigenous communities remain isolated; while representatives from Panama’s Embera indigenous group said they intended to use drones to map out their territory and determine whether the area can be used to capture and store large amounts of carbon dioxide waste underground, a process known as carbon capture. 

The drones to be used by these indigenous groups cost $12,000 each and have a 16 kilometer flight radius, according to EFE. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The fact that indigenous activists in the Amazon are already set to begin deploying drones points to a great potential for the use of these aircraft — which have been growing in popularity in Latin America — in monitoring illicit activity in jungle regions. Environmental crime is worth billions of dollars each year on a global scale, and involves major criminal networks. One of the current challenges faced by authorities is a lack of adequate tools to combat eco-trafficking. 

SEE ALSO:  Coverage of Eco-Trafficking

There is already a precedent for the use of drones in this way: in 2011, Brazil’s environmental police purchased drones to track crimes like illegal fishing and deforestation in rural areas.

One key advantage of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), is that they can perform surveillance in wide swathes of territory that are not easily accessible to humans, or that are dangerous to enter. The jungles of Peru and Colombia are bastions for illegal gold mining, while areas like the Bosawas forest reserve in Nicaragua are heavily impacted by illegal timber extraction and land trafficking.

Nonetheless, more extensive deployment of drones in Latin America still faces a number of complications, including inadequate domestic or international legislation regarding how they can be used. These issues would likely need to be addressed before government bodies could fly the machines in indigenous or privately owned territory. 

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