Deforestation in Amazon has increased by 55% from a year ago despite pandemic, shows analysis

We are well on track for another record year for deforestation and fires in the Amazon, says an expert

                            Deforestation in Amazon has increased by 55% from a year ago despite pandemic, shows analysis
(Getty Images)

The Amazon rainforest is brimming with activity — not with wildlife, but with humans set out to destroy it. Despite the pandemic, illegal loggers and miners are active, reports suggest. According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation in the country's rainforests has shot up by 64% in  April this year, compared to the same period last year. The month saw forests about the size of California disappear. 

The rise is not restricted to April alone. In 2020, Amazon deforestation increased by 55% from a year ago to 1,202 square kilometers, according to the data. 

"The pandemic has not helped because there are apparently lesser agents out there, and illegal loggers obviously don’t care about the virus in remote areas of the Amazon," Paulo Barreto, senior researcher for non-profit Amazon institute Imazon told Reuters. To stop any further damage, the Defense Ministry reportedly sent more than 3,000 soldiers from the Brazilian Armed Forces to the Amazon and other environmental officials. Other experts told Reuters that the move may help in the short term and is not the answer to the problem.

From the late 20th century, industrial activities and large-scale agriculture are driving deforestation in Amazon. And now, the situation is looking stark. Only last year, deforestation in Amazon was at an 11- year high. Not to mention, the forest burned at a record rate in 2019, consuming large swaths. President Jair Bolsonaro has since faced criticisms.

The spike this year is worrying environmentalists. "We are well on track for another record year for deforestation and fires in the Amazon," Adriana Charoux, an Amazon campaigner for Greenpeace Brazil, said in a press statement. "In the midst of the pandemic, Bolsonaro is doubling down on actions that would effectively disintegrate indigenous territories and lead to more deforestation for meat production." What is more, Bolsonaro has criticized INPE's warnings on deforestation rates. He called them harmful for trade negotiations, according to the Agencia Brasil news agency.

Threat to indigenous population 

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In times of the pandemic, illegal loggers could introduce the disease into forest regions occupied by the indigenous population. As per reports, the Amazon rainforest is home to about 896,917of them in Brazil, distributed among 305 ethnic groups. They represent less than 0.5% of the country's population. "The indigenous people in the Amazon do not have the antibodies for the diseases that come from outside of the rainforest," Brazilian activist and photographer Sebastião Salgado told CNN's Christiane Amanpour during a recent interview. 

Others agree. "There is an incredible risk of the virus spreading across the native communities and wiping them out,"  Dr. Sofia Mendonça, a researcher at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), told BBC. Already, the virus has infected at least 277 cases and caused 19 deaths among Brazil's indigenous tribes, according to SESAI, a specialized branch of the Brazilian Health Ministry that deals with health issues among indigenous populations. 

"If their lands are properly protected from outsiders, uncontacted tribes should be relatively safe from the coronavirus pandemic. But many of their territories are being invaded and stolen for logging, mining, and agribusiness, with the encouragement of President Bolsonaro," Survival International's Uncontacted Tribes campaigner Sarah Shenker said in a recent press statement.

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