A study has found that 227 environmental activists were killed last year while participating in efforts to protect natural resources. This means that 2020 may have been the deadliest year ever for environmental defenders.

The study, which was published by environmental and human rights group Global Witness on Monday, analyzed data and reports involving murders of known environmental activists from around the world. This included scouring through news sources, local reports, national reports, and organization data in multiple languages.

Researchers found that an average of four people are being killed per week last year for defending forests, lakes, and other natural resources.

According to the study, most of the murders had occurred in Latin America. Colombia was identified as the worst country for environmental activists. The study found that 65 people were killed in the country for defending indigenous land, forests, and coca crops. Mexico, where 30 murders had happened, ranked second.

The Philippines, which was the only country outside of Latin America to record more than 15 murders, ranked third. The report showed that 29 people were killed in the country last year for attempting to disrupt or halt mining and logging activities as well as major dam projects. More than half of the murders of environmental activists last year occurred in the top three countries.

Global Witness said the environmental activists were more vulnerable to attacks last year because of the COVID-19 lockdowns. The pandemic also forced some companies to intensify their illegal activities, prompting activists to take action against governments and businesses conducting them.   

"2020 was supposed to be the year the world stood still, but our data shows that this didn't translate to safer outcomes for those standing up for our planet," Chris Madden, one of the study's authors, said.

The study showed that about 70% of the murders were done to people defending forests from loggers and industrial development. The study found that the logging industry was the largest sector to be involved in murder cases last year. The rest of those killed were people defending aquatic resources such as rivers, reefs, and oceans. Of those that were killed last year, 10 of them were women.