Development of Infrastructure

The settlement and subsequent clearance of frontier lands in Latin America have closely followed the expansion of the road network. Road building is not always carried out exclusively by governments. In Ecuador, the early penetration roads into the environmentally fragile eastern region were largely built by multinational oil companies. Mahar and Schneider (1994) argue that road building is the single most powerful factor causing the deforestation of frontier areas in Latin America. Certainly oil exploration, agricultural expansion, and timber extraction are not possible without roads, and they are important reasons why roads are built in many forest regions.

The results of providing all-weather overland access to frontier areas are often cumulative and irreversible. The increase in population associated with the completion of primary roads usually generates demand for secondary and feeder roads, which in turn attract more population. The process has been documented throughout the Brazilian Amazon, in the eastern lowlands of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, as well as in Central America. Once roads have been built into wilderness areas, there is pressure on the local and national governments to provide further infrastructure such as health services, education, police, and other social services (Castellanet and Jordan 2002).

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