InfoAmazonia Launches: Mapping Environmental Challenges in the Amazon

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Earth Journalism Network, Washington, DC

Internews and O Eco, a Brazilian environmental news agency, have launched a pioneering new website. InfoAmazonia.org is an interactive mapping platform that provides timely news and reports of environmental threats in Amazon region through an innovative visualization of data.

The Amazon is one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world, keeping climate change in check by absorbing CO2. It has increasingly faced acute environmental and developmental challenges such as two ‘once-in-a-century’ droughts and large-scale deforestation over the last five years. Yet, the Latin American public is not well informed about these challenges, as the mainstream media has not conveyed their extent, causes or implications. InfoAmazonia.org has been launched to coincide with the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. This interactive mapping platform allows the uploading and downloading of environmental news and data about the Amazon basin. It features news stories on environmental and developmental challenges in the Amazon and contextualizes them with rich geographic datasets on deforestation, fires, oil drilling and mining.

‘InfoAmazonia happens at a time when there is a lot of talk about open source data. There are many institutes and NGOs which have collected data about the Amazon region for many years. But they have not made this data available to the general public. This project will provide a platform to share this data together with other open source data such as on deforestation provided by Brazil’s government and on forest fires from NASA satellites,’ says Gustavo Faleiros, Editor of the Brazilian environmental news agency O Eco, creator of InfoAmazonia and a Knight International Journalism Fellow of the International Center for Journalists.

The project uses the digital mapping software MapBox and Google Earth to enable the visualization and interpretation of trends on environmental issues as deforestation and forest fires and to locate stories in the area they take place. ‘Maps have been a means to interpret reality for many centuries. With InfoAmazonia.org we use this old instrument in a digital age to visualize and communicate information in a better, innovative way,’ explains Gustavo.

Rather than a static information environment, InfoAmazonia.org will be a vibrant space for the public to join the reporting process, the collection and verification of data. The project is therefore not only a digital platform; it also aims at establishing a network of journalists and NGOs and to train them in the use of Google Earth applications and geo-located reporting. InfoAmazonia.org will provide a digital mapping journalism workshop at the Rio+20 conference. The workshop will train journalists in how to use data of digital maps for reporting and how to share their information.

“It’s wonderful to see this vision realized after first being dreamed up four years, and it comes at a time when there is a flood of environmental data being made available, but not a lot of ways to make it easily understood,” says James Fahn, the Executive Director of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network. “In fact, we hope to work with other partners around the world to expand this mapping platform to other regions, as well.”

The launch of InfoAmazonia came on the eve of the Rio+20 Summit, where Internews and O Eco have also joined forces to create a Fellowship program that has brought 30 journalists from around the world. After arriving last week, the Fellows have participated in an Orientation Day training program, gone on a field trip, met with some leading experts and of course started to cover the conference. To find out how the conference is being covered around the world, check out their stories here as the week goes on.

The InfoAmazonia team has also carried out a workshop on digital mapping and journalism, or GeoJournalism, at the Rio+20 conference, training journalists in how to create and use digital maps for reporting and how to share their data. Internews and O Eco are planning with their partners to carry out additional training workshops with the Pan-Amazon Communicators Network they established last year.

The development of the InfoAmazonia.org platform has been made possible with support from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, while the Rio+20 Fellowship program received support from Fundo Vale, the Botza Foundation, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and an anonymous donor  to Internews.