Rio de Janeiro (AFP)
The number of forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon last month rose 28% from July 2019, satellite data showed on Saturday, fueling fears that the world’s largest rainforest will again be devastated by fires this year.
Brazil’s national space agency, INPE, identified 6,803 fires in the Amazon region in July 2020, up from 5,318 the previous year.
The figure is all the more disturbing given that 2019 has already been a devastating year for the fires in the Amazon, triggering a global outcry.
This has put pressure on Brazil, which owns around 60% of the Amazon Basin region, to do more to protect the massive forest, seen as vital to containing the impact of climate change.
The fires are largely aimed at illegally clearing land for agriculture, ranching and mining.
Activists accuse Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right climate change skeptic, of encouraging deforestation with calls to open the rainforest to agriculture and industry.
Under international pressure, Bolsonaro deployed the military to fight the fires and declared a moratorium on the fires. But activists say it doesn’t go far enough to get to the root of the problem.
Fires rose 77% on indigenous lands and 50% on protected nature reserves from July 2019, environmental group Greenpeace said, showing how illegal activities are increasingly encroaching on these areas.
As of July 30 alone, satellites detected 1,007 fires in the Amazon, the INPE said.
It was the worst day of fire in July since 2005, Greenpeace said.
“More than 1,000 fires in a single day, this is a record for 15 years and shows that the government’s strategy for media operations and entertainment is not working on the ground”, said the spokesperson for Greenpeace Romulo Batista in a press release.
“On paper, the fire moratorium prohibits fires, but that only works if there is a response on the ground too, with more patrols. Criminals are not known to obey the law. ”
Instead, the Bolsonaro administration cut the budget, staff and programs of environmental authority IBAMA.
“Everything that worked was thrown out the window,” Erika Berenguer, an Amazonian environmentalist at Oxford and Lancaster universities, told AFP.
– “The conditions are ripe” –
The Amazon fire season generally runs from June to October.
But fires are only part of the deforestation picture.
The rest of the year, ranchers, farmers, miners and land speculators clear the forest and prepare to burn it.
The first six months of 2020 were the worst on record for deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, with 3,069 square kilometers (1,185 square miles) cleared, according to INPE data – an area larger than the Luxembourg nation.
If a significant portion of those felled trees burned in 2020, the result could be catastrophic, experts warn.
“I think August will be the decisive month,” Berenguer said.
Last year, the number of fires jumped nearly 200% year-over-year in August, to 30,900, sending a thick haze of black smoke as far as Sao Paulo, thousands of miles away. , and causing global alarm.
The number of fires has declined since then, under increased surveillance and pressure – including from businesses and investors worried about the impact on the Brazilian brand.
But Berenguer said it was only a matter of time before the newly deforested land caught fire in the name of agriculture and livestock.
“It is an economic investment to deforest. It’s expensive… You need heavy machinery: bulldozers, tractors, people, diesel, ”she says.
“We will not deforest to leave all these trees on the ground. You have to burn them because you have to get your investment back.
Additionally, U.S. space agency NASA warned last month that warmer surface temperatures in the North Atlantic mean the southern Amazon faces a major drought this year.
He said “man-made fires used for agriculture and land clearing were more likely to get out of hand and spread.”
“The conditions are right,” he says.
Exacerbating the situation this year, experts say the resulting smoke risks causing a spike in respiratory emergencies in an area already hard hit by COVID-19.
Brazil has more infections and deaths from the novel coronavirus than any country except the United States: more than 2.6 million and 92,000, respectively.
© 2020 AFP