View of a burnt area in the Amazon rainforest near Candeias do Jamari, Rondonia state, northern Brazil, September 2, 2022 – Copyright AFP/File Yasuyoshi CHIBA
The number of wildfires in the Brazilian Amazon this year has already surpassed the number of wildfires in all of 2021, according to official figures released on Monday, raising new alarm for the world’s largest rainforest.
According to the Brazilian space agency INPE, from January 1 to September 18, satellite monitoring recorded 75,592 fires, which is already more than 75,090 detected in the whole of last year.
The latest grim news from the rainforest is likely to increase the pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for re-election next month and facing international criticism over the surge of destruction in the Amazon before his eyes.
Since a far-right agribusiness ally took power in January 2019, average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 75 percent over the previous decade, deforesting an area almost the size of Puerto Rico last year. .
Experts say the fires in the Amazon are mostly caused by illegal farmers, ranchers and speculators clearing land and burning trees.
Despite the progressive destruction, Bolsonaro’s administration slashed budgets for conservation operations and pushed for the opening of protected Amazon lands to mining.
Greenpeace Brazil spokesman Andre Freitas called the latest data “a predicted tragedy.”
“After four years of clear and objective federal government anti-environmental policies, we see that as we approach the end of this government’s term — one of the darkest periods for the Brazilian environment — land grabbers and other illegal actors see this as the perfect opportunity to move forward in the forest. “, he said in a statement.
– Election Year Series –
It has been a worrying year for the Amazon, a key buffer against global warming.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon nearly doubled last month from August 2021 to 1,661 square kilometers (641 square miles).
And as the fire season began in earnest in August with the arrival of drier weather, the number of fires has skyrocketed.
According to INPE, there were several days that surpassed the so-called “Day of Fire” on August 10, 2019, when farmers launched a coordinated plan to burn massive amounts of deforested rainforest in the northern state of Para.
The fires then sent thick gray smoke all the way to São Paulo, about 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) away, and sparked a global outcry over images of one of Earth’s most vital resources burning.
Bolsonaro vehemently rejects these criticisms, insisting that Brazil “protects its forests much better than in Europe” and allays international alarm with the phrase: “The Amazon belongs to the Brazilians and always will.”
The leader vying to unseat him in next month’s presidential election, left-wing ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has vowed to better defend the Amazon.
Deforestation of Brazil’s 60 per cent share of the Amazon fell sharply under Lula, from nearly 28,000 square kilometers in 2004 to 7,000 square kilometers in 2010.
However, he has faced criticism from environmentalists for his own track record, including the controversial decision to build the massive Belo Monte hydroelectric plant in the Amazon.
And the highest number of fires ever recorded in INPE’s Brazilian Amazon, whose records date back to 1998, was before his eyes: 218,637 in 2004.