The Amazon region encompasses the entire east-central area of South America, to the east of the Andean Cordillera and from the Guyana Shield in the north to the Brazilian highlands in the south. Its elevation ranges from 4,000 meters, in the western Cordillera, to sea level. It has an area of more than 7.8 million km2, 4% of the South American continent, and includes portions of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela. The total population of Amazonia is estimated at 22 million (1992), including many tribes of native people.
The enormous wealth of the Amazon region has allowed the survival and development of unique forms of life. The biodiversity of its ecosystems is enormous and these provide habitat to more than 30,000 species of plants, approximately 2,000 species offish, 60 species of reptiles, 35 families of mammals, and approximately 1,800 species of birds. More than 16% of all the world's fresh water drains through the Amazon Basin, with an average flow in excess of 175,000 m3 per second. The area is characterized by heavy precipitation and is mostly covered with tropical rainforest. The Amazonian forests account for more than 56% of the world's broad-leafed forests. Approximately 3% of the area of the region, or nearly 22 million ha., has been set aside as national parks and protected areas by the governments of the Amazon countries.
The Amazon region cannot be considered only as a reserve for biodiversity; it is also an important storehouse of resources for development. It contains one of the largest known bauxite reserves, approximately 15% of the world's total, and it is one of the major suppliers of iron and steel. Wood and wood products, gold, and tin, are other commodities produced in the region that are under increasing demand for export. The proper management of the Amazon's natural resources is vital for the countries of the region and for the whole world.
The Amazon countries signed the Treaty for Amazonian Cooperation (TAC) in 1978. Under this treaty they agreed to carry out joint efforts and actions to promote development, environmental conservation, and rational use of the region's natural resources. These perspectives were reflected in a gradual incorporation of environmental management and sustainable development as objectives in development strategies of the Amazon countries.
The Amazon countries' border areas, besides being endowed by an enormous biodiversity, have many of the potentials and constraints of the Amazon region as a whole. Programs and projects undertaken in these frontier areas, by limiting the scope of study from the entire basin to areas that are much smaller but still representative of the Amazonian universe, facilitate interagency and interdisciplinary development actions. The objectives set by the countries participating in the border studies include creating conditions for sustainable development in those areas and, at the same time, permitting the formulation of specific development projects, that can serve as models for the extension of development planning and environmental management to other areas in the Amazon.
These activities are carried out by the countries with the cooperation of the OAS General Secretariat, through its Department of Regional Development and Environment. In monetary terms, the contribution of the OAS General Secretariat, from the beginning of the studies until 1992, amounted to US$1.7 million (see Graph 1).
Upon joining the OAS in 1989, Canada expressed a particular interest in supporting sustainable development activities in the Amazon. Since 1990 Canada has been participating with the OAS in a technical cooperation program aimed at preparing development and environmental management projects for border areas. Starting in 1991, the OAS General Secretariat and Canada have been executing the Program on Environmental Protection and Economic Development of the Amazon Region.