Amazon burning: Brazil reports record forest fires
Robie de Guzman • August 21, 2019 • 573
Wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest have hit a record number this year, with 72,843 fires detected so far by Brazil’s space research centre INPE, as concerns grow over right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s environmental policy.
The surge marks an 83% increase over the same period of 2018, the agency said on Tuesday (August 20), and is the highest since records began in 2013.
Since last Thursday (August 15), INPE said satellite images spotted 9,507 new forest fires in the country, mostly in the Amazon basin, home to the world’s largest tropical forest seen as vital to countering global warming.
Large portions of the country were covered in thick smoke. The state of Amazonas declared an emergency in the south of the state and in its capital Manaus on August 9. The state of Acre, on the border with Peru, has been on environmental alert since Friday (August 16) due to the fires.
Wildfires have increased in Mato Grosso and Para, two states where Brazil’s agricultural frontier has pushed into the Amazon basin and spurred deforestation.
Wildfires are common in the dry season, but are also deliberately set by farmers illegally deforesting land for cattle ranching.
The unprecedented surge in wildfires has occurred since Bolsonaro took office in January vowing to develop the Amazon region for farming and mining, ignoring international concern over increased deforestation. (Reuters)
Residents in Brazil’s vast Mato Grosso state were battling blazes spreading in dry brush while Brazil’s military arrived at a remote jungle location to fight the fires that continue to plague the South American nation and threaten the world’s largest rainforest: the Amazon.
As fires spread through dry vegetation and threatened a local farm near Agua Boa in Mato Gross on Wednesday (September 04), local resident Francicles Niatslovs told Reuters a water truck fighting the flames, “but we can’t keep up, its all burning.”
The number of blazes in Brazil has skyrocketed 80% in the year to date compared to the same period in 2018, according to data from space research agency INPE.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s military on Wednesday was aiding efforts to combat the blazes in a remote area of Amazonas state. Military personnel joined firefighters spraying smoldering logs to prevent fires from restarting and spreading.
On August 24, Brazil’s joint military chief said that the country has some 44,000 troops stationed in its northern Amazon region that available to combat forest fires and could send more from elsewhere in the country. (REUTERS)
A few charred trees are all that remain in this patch of the Amazon after it was ravaged by fires, a somber scene which has angered the international community as a record number of fires in the Amazon rainforest intensified an unfolding environmental crisis.
Amid a global chorus of concern and condemnation, Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro pledged in an address to the nation to mobilise the army to help combat the blazes, while his administration launched a diplomatic charm offensive to try to mend bridges overseas.
Forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon, which accounts for more than half of the world’s largest rainforest, have surged in number by 83% this year, according to government data, destroying vast swathes of a vital bulwark against global climate change.
Environmentalists have warned that his controversial plans for more agriculture and mining in the region will speed up deforestation.
The Brazilian space agency INPE has registered 72,843 fires this year, the highest number since records began in 2013. More than 9,500 have been spotted by satellites over the past week.
Although fires are a regular and natural occurrence during the dry season at this time of year, environmentalists blamed the jump on farmers clearing land for pasture.
Farmers may have had at least tacit encouragement from the firebrand right-wing president, who took power in January.
Bolsonaro has repeatedly said he believes Brazil should open up the Amazon to business interests, allowing mining, agricultural and logging companies to exploit its natural resources. (Reuters)
Bolivian President Evo Morales did an about-face on Sunday (August 25) and said he was now open to international aid to fight the blazes that have engulfed rural villages and doubled in size since Thursday.
Morales is also suspending his campaign for re-election for at least a week, just two months from election day, to focus on the wildfires.
“At no point have we closed ourselves off from offers of help to support us in the activities that we must carry out. The only offer that has been paid to the foreign ministry has come from the United States and they offered us experts,” Foreign Minister Diego Pary said.
The blazes burn unabated across vast swaths of hilly tropical forest and savannah near Bolivia’s border with Paraguay and Brazil. At least 1 million hectares, or approximately 3,800 square miles, have been impacted by the fires, officials said.
Morales’ government had been slow to accept the aid, initially saying it would use its own resources to fight the fires, but pleas from villagers and officials of Santa Cruz province led to an about-face. Argentina, Paraguay, Peru, Chile and Spain have all offered support.
Late on Sunday, a group of protesters gathered outside Morales’ home to demand more action.
Television footage showed out-of-control flames and opaque clouds of smoke engulfing villages, scorching savannah and farm fields dotted with wavering palm trees and ripping across hillsides.
Bolivia late last week contracted a Boeing 747 “Supertanker” from the United States to help with the fire-fighting, and has mobilized more than 2,000 firefighters, as well as small aircraft and helicopters. But the area affected by wildfire has nonetheless nearly doubled since Thursday.
Political rivals accused Morales of a slow response. Some have said his rural development policies have contributing to the problem, as farmers set the forest alight to clear land for pasture and settlement.
Thousands of wildfires are also decimating the neighbouring Brazilian Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest. The blazes have nearly doubled this year compared with the same period in 2018, prompting global outrage.
The Amazon basin’s vast forests are widely seen by scientists as a buffer against climate change.
Bolivia’s portion of the Amazon, while not as extensive, remains heavily forested. The Andean nation is one of the poorest in the western hemisphere but one of the richest in biodiversity. (Reuters)
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