Amazon rainforest fires rage at 13-year record high in June, likely to worsen in next 3 months
According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have given some people a free pass as the first five months of 2020 saw 34% higher deforestation
Fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforests have set a new record: it rose by 20% to a 13-year high in June, according to reports. The event has sparked concerns over what is to come for the country which had witnessed catastrophic blazes last year. Some experts are blaming the government for the escalating crisis.
According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), 2,248 fires struck the Amazon rainforest in June 2020, up from 1,880 in June 2019. "It’s a bad sign, but what really is going to count is what happens from now on,” Philip Fearnside, an ecologist at Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research, told Reuters.
The fires are likely to worsen in the next three months. Experts add that it is high time that the government acts. "This is just the beginning. Over the next few months, unless we see strong intervention, fires will be likely to increase and engulf vast areas of forest, endangering the lives of Indigenous Peoples, wildlife, and worsening the climate crisis globally," Anna Jones, Greenpeace UK Head of Forests, said in a statement.
Fires are tied to deforestation as they are usually set to clear the land after trees have been cut down. “These fires are no accident. Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, has done nothing to discourage ranchers and land grabbers to stop deforesting the Amazon. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, deforestation has soared, and now we are seeing fires deliberately lit to clear that land for industrial agriculture," Jones added.
Worse, the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have given some people a free pass. The first five months of 2020 saw 34% higher deforestation, INPE data suggested. In April alone, forests about the size of California have disappeared.
In 2019, deforestation in Amazon was at an 11-year high. The forest burned at a record rate that year, consuming large swathes of greenery. President Bolsonaro has since faced criticisms from across the world. Calling it an "international tragedy", Amazon Watch, an organization that protects the rainforest and its indigenous people, said: "This devastation is directly related to President Bolsonaro's anti-environmental rhetoric, which erroneously frames forest protections and human rights as impediments to Brazil's economic growth," Amazon Watch program director Christian Poirier said in a statement.
However, the president has consistently defended himself. "Certain countries, instead of helping ... behaved in a disrespectful manner and with a colonialist spirit," he said in September. Since he took office, the fines for damaging the environment have dropped by a third in 2019, compared to the same period last year. During his campaigns, he reportedly vowed to limit penalties for violators.
Increased burning could worsen air quality. This is bad news for those suffering from a respiratory disease such as Covid-19. Besides, there are also fears that deforestation could trigger the next pandemic. "Amazon is a huge reservoir of viruses. We'd better not try our luck,” said Dr David Lapola, a scientist at University of Campinas in Brazil, told AFP.