BRASILIA, Brazil – The World Bank announced Tuesday it will lend $1.2 billion to Brazil over the next four years to help protect the environment.

Vinod Thomas, the World Bank’s director for Brazil, said it was the bank’s biggest single loan dedicated to protecting the environment of a single country.

“Given the size of Brazil and the size of the problem and the quality of the government’s project, it is a reasonable amount,” Thomas said in video link from Washington.

Brazil’s environment minister, Marina Silva, said the money would be used to finance 10 projects ranging from protecting the Amazon rainforest to employing environmental analysts.

“For us, this is highly relevant,” Silva said, adding that the loan should serve to shield environmental projects from any eventual budget cuts.

Silva appeared with Finance Minister Antonio Palocci. Under terms of the loan, Brazil will draw $505 million each year over four years. The country will then have 17 years to pay it back at an interest rate of 4.9 percent.

Silva said much of the money will be used to hire more environmental analysts to speed the process of licensing projects ranging from offshore oil rigs to thermo- and hydro-electric plants.

Many investors have long complained of long delays in obtaining such licenses from Ibama, the federal environmental protection agency.

Silva said that when she took over the environment ministry in 2002, there were only seven inspectors to provide such licenses. That number has grown to 71 and Silva said she hoped to hire 150 more this year with the help of the loan.

The analysts will also be essential in protecting the wilderness along the BR-163 highway that the government hopes to pave into the heart of the Amazon rainforest.

Grain farmers in the southern Amazon have long called for paving the road, which leads to a major river port in Santarem. But environmentalists argue that paving the road will open the heart of the rainforest up to unprecedented destruction.

The government says safeguards can be implemented that will allow the road to be paved without the destruction that has accompanied previous road projects in the Amazon.

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