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Amazon Research Funding in Danger


One of the world's top institutions specializing in Amazon research is in danger of shutting down much of its operations because funding from the Brazilian government is not forthcoming.

Brazil's National Institute for Amazon Research has almost run out of money for the year a victim of government austerity measures. Known by its Portuguese acronym INPA, the Manaus-based institute has some 240 scientists, including some Americans, working on projects related to environmental conservation and sustainable development of the Amazon rainforest. Research papers published by these scientists have brought world attention to the Institute.

But INPA is on the verge of shutting down many of its operations, if the federal government cannot come up with extra funding to meet the Institute's maintenance costs.

Charles Clement, an American who is INPA's planning chief, says because federal funding has not kept up with soaring utility costs money alloted for research is now being used to pay for maintenance. He says this means INPA's research targets are not being met because the money is being used to pay for light, telephone and water bills.

Mr. Clement says if the Brazilian government cannot come up with $1.8 million by next month to pay the rest of the year's utility bills, much of INPA will shut down. "We're not talking about large amounts of money here, when we take into account that the Brazilian science budget, for example, is around $1 billion," he says. "So if biodiversity is important, if Amazonia is important, then funding for this Institute should be important."

INPA does receive money from the Smithsonian Insitution in Washington, which funds certain projects. Mr. Clement says about $2 million comes from outside sources like the Smithsonian. But the bulk of INPA's money, about $5 million a year, is provided by Brazil's Ministry of Science Technology.

Government spending under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has been cut dramatically in recent years. A new loan agreement reached with the International Monetary Fund late last month is likely to mean further austerity cuts.

If INPA is forced to shut off its lights next month, Mr. Clement says the first victims will be the Institute's plant and animal collections. This would include more than a dozen Amazon river manatees that are housed in INPA's Science Park, a popular local attraction.

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