At one time, rain forests covered more than 14 percent of Earth's surface; today that percentage has been reduced to 6. Amazonia, an alternative term for the Amazon Rain Forest, expands over more than half of Brazil and parts of several other countries, and is considered one of the world's greatest natural wonders. The Amazon is used for its abundant natural resources of food, timber, fresh water and oxygen-producing foliage---but most of all, it's a home.
One of the most often forgotten uses of the Amazon Rain Forest is as a home; not only to humans, but also to more than one third of all the world's registered species (plants and animals.) Sadly, the indigenous peoples of the Amazon are rapidly disappearing; when Europeans first appeared in the 16th century, there were some 9 million people living in the Amazon. That number has been reduced to an estimated 250,000.
The Amazon produces a bountiful supply of foods consumed not only by Brazilians, but by people around the world. Products that can be found in the Amazon include avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, guavas, pineapple, mangoes, squash, pepper, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, sugarcane, tumeric, coffee, vanilla, Brazil nuts and cashews. These, of course, are only a select few.
The Amazon is the world's "natural pharmacy," as 25 percent of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rain-forest ingredients. Many of the natural foods of the Amazon, such as Brazil nuts, are high in cancer-fighting enzymes. Among the nearly 3,000 plant species in the Amazon that have been identified as having cancer-fighting properties, the mineral vincristine (from the periwinkle plant) is among the most coveted as it has proven successful in decreasing the fatality rate in childhood leukemia.
As a forest, naturally the Amazon is used for its timber and pulpwood. Many highly coveted tropical hardwoods such as teak, mahogany and rosewood are harvested there. The biggest importers of Amazon timber are Japan, Germany, France, Italy, the United States and Canada. The Amazon is also rich in mineral deposits, such as gold, bauxite, iron, tin and diamonds.
The Amazon is the largest watershed river system in the world. The main section of the Amazon river is 4,080 miles long, but nearly 10,000 more miles of tributaries, swamp lands and streams fed from the river are navigable by boat. The Amazon Delta basin is the largest in the world. Twenty percent of Earth's fresh water flows from the Amazon into the oceans. The river is considered one of Earth's most majestic natural phenomena. Over 3,000 species of fish have been found in the Amazon; the largest number of freshwater species in the world. The river is also a crucial mode of transportation for exportation and river-inhabiting peoples.
The Amazon has been dubbed the "Lungs of our Planet" due to the dense amount of vegetation that converts carbon dioxide into oxygen. More than 20 percent of all oxygen on Earth is generated by the Amazon rain forest.