The number of forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon rose 28% last month from July 2019, satellite data released on Saturday showed, fueling fears that the world’s largest rainforest not be devastated by fires again this year.
Brazil’s National Space Institute, INPE, identified 6,803 fires in the Amazon region in July 2020, up from 5,318 the previous year. On the day of July 30 alone, satellites detected 1007 fires in the Amazon, said the INPE, the worst day for a month of July since 2005, underlined the environmental NGO Greenpeace.
This figure is even more worrying for researchers because 2019 has already been a devastating year for the Amazon, causing protest demonstrations around the world.
As a result, pressures have grown on Brazil, ruled by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, to commit to doing more to protect this gigantic forest, which scientists believe is vital in the fight against change. climate.
Fires to clear the land
The main purpose of fires is to illegally clear land in order to make room for agriculture, animal husbandry or mining. Environmental activists accuse Jair Bolsonaro, notoriously skeptical of climate change, of encouraging deforestation with calls to open the rainforest to agricultural activity and industry.
“More than a thousand fires in a single day is a record for 15 years and it shows that the government’s strategy of conducting media diversion operations is not working on the ground,” the spokesperson said in a statement. from Greenpeace Brazil, Romulo Batista.
President Bolsonaro has mobilized the military to fight the fires, but environmentalists believe he is not addressing the real causes of the fires and deforestation. The spokesperson for Greenpeace Brazil explained that actually combating arson aimed at illegally clearing land would require other measures than those taken by the Brazilian authorities.
“In the texts, these fires are prohibited, but the ban only works if there is also a response on the ground, with more patrols. Criminals are not particularly known to comply with the law,” explains Romulo Batista.
In addition, the Bolsonaro administration has cut the budget, staff and programs of the Brazilian environmental agency, Ibama. “Everything that worked has been thrown out the window,” Erika Berenguer, an Amazonian environmentalist who does research for the British universities of Oxford and Lancaster, told AFP.
Record deforestation in the first half of 2020
The Amazon fire season generally runs from June to October. But fires are only one of the causes of deforestation. During the rest of the year, ranchers, cultivators, miners and speculators “prepare” wooded areas for subsequent burning.
The first six months of 2020 were the period during which deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon was the most important since statistics exist: according to data from the INPE, 3,069 square kilometers were razed. If a significant portion of these areas where trees have been felled are set on fire in 2020, the situation could turn catastrophic, experts warn.
In 2019, the number of fires had already increased by 200% in August year on year, with 30,900 fires listed. Sao Paulo, the megalopolis located a thousand kilometers away, had been covered by a thick cloud of ash.