Scientists and environmental groups “alarmed” by huge increase in Amazon forest fires


Scientists and environmental groups expressed concern after new data revealed that there were 28% more fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest in July compared to the same time last year.

Satellite images released by Brazilian space research agency INPE on Saturday revealed 6,803 fires in the Amazon last month. There were 5,318 in July 2019.

“I am very concerned,” Erika Berenguer, an Amazonian environmentalist and senior research associate at UK University of Oxford, told NBC News on Sunday.

Adding that she was “alarmed by the numbers,” Berenguer said July was the start of “fire season” when areas that have been deforested must be burned to clear land.

“It’s an indicator that the rest of the burn season is going to be very intense,” she said.

His comments were echoed by Ane Alencar, scientific director of the Brazilian Institute for Research on the Amazonian Environment (IPAM).

“It’s a terrible sign,” she told Reuters news agency. “We can expect August to be already a difficult month and September to be even worse.”

An expanse of Amazon jungle burns when cleared by farmers in Rio Pardo, Rondonia, Brazil in September 2019.Ricardo Moraes / Reuters

Brazil is home to 60% of the Amazon, which is the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

After analyzing the data, Greenpeace International concluded that more than 1,000 fires had been recorded in the Amazon on July 30. He said this was the most single-day hotspot in July since 2005. NBC News has not been able to independently verify it.

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“We cannot continue to break such records,” the environmental organization said in a tweet.

Greenpeace has previously warned that 2020 could be even more devastating for the rainforest and the indigenous peoples who live there.

And a report released by IPAM last fall found that deforestation – not drought – was the main driver of the record fires of 2019.

However, right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, skeptical of climate change, called for more development and economic opportunities in the Amazon region, often referred to as the “lung of the planet”.

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With mounting pressure, Bolsonaro’s government announced earlier this month that it plans to ban fires in the Amazon for 120 days. Greenpeace called the measure “insufficient”.

The organization shared footage of what it said were fires burning in central Mato Grosso state despite the ban. He said the photos show the smoke, the flames, “and how ineffective the ban has been. “

Bolsonaro also sent the army to fight the forest fires from May.

The biggest evidence that these two measures were not effective is the number of fires seen in July, Berenguer said, adding that the IPNE also released data last week to show that July 2020 was already the second worst. July never recorded for deforestation, behind July. 2019.

“It clearly doesn’t work when we see such high rates of deforestation combined with a high number of fires,” Berenguer added.

An aerial view shows a deforested piece of the Amazon in the Brazilian state of Rondonia, in September 2019.Bruno Kelly / Reuters

NASA researchers also warned earlier this month that conditions are “ripe” for an active fire season in the Amazon, saying warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic Ocean tropical so far in 2020 have increased the risk of fires in the southern Amazon. .

Warmer surface waters near the equator draw moisture north and far south of the Amazon, the space agency said, making the Amazon landscape dry and flammable. This makes man-made fires used for agriculture and land clearing more prone to spiraling out of control and spreading, he added.

Berenguer said it could produce a “double whammy” this year with fires capable of sustaining even in an intact forest.

IPAM also warned in June that a deforested area of ​​at least 4,500 square kilometers in the Amazon was ready to burn.

“This fallen vegetation can go up in smoke with the dry season which began in June during another intense fire season as we observed in 2019,” he said in a statement.

“If this happens, the number of hospitalizations for respiratory problems can increase significantly, putting additional strain on the region’s health system, already severely affected by COVID-19.

Brazil is struggling to contain the outbreak, with the second highest number of cases and deaths in the world.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report.


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