The Amazon burns. And such is the extent of the fires that affect this crucial region for the planet, that many Amazon states like Amazonas and Acre in Brazil have declared an emergency or environmental alert.
With more than 74,000 fires recorded since January, according to data from INPE (Portuguese acronym for the National Space Research Institute of Brazil), Brazil shows an 83% increase in forest fires compared to last year.
This is the highest number of fires since records began in 2013.
- How the Amazon rainforest became more flammable despite being one of the wettest places in the world
And the fires of the Amazon have not been limited to Brazil, they also affect the Amazonian regions of Bolivia, Paraguay Peru.
But how did this situation come about? What gave rise to these multiple fires that generated an international wave of criticism of the environmental policy of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro?
One of the causes to which forest fires are usually attributed is the dry season.
Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles posted on Twitter on Wednesday that ” dry weather, wind, and heat caused fires to increase almost throughout the country.”
However, Alberto Setzer, an INPE researcher, explained to the Reuters agency, “there is nothing abnormal about the climate or rainfall in the Amazon region this year, which is only slightly below average.”
While the dry season creates favorable conditions for the use and spread of fire, ” starting a fire is the job of humans, either deliberately or by accident.”
Setzer refers to the fires started by farmers and peasants, who use the llamas as a tool to clear an area that they first cut down, to create space for their animals and plants.
These cleared spaces are normally used in this region to raise cattle and grow soybeans.
” There is no natural fire in the Amazon. Some people practice burning, which can worsen and ignite fires in the dry season,” says the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, known by its acronym, IPAM.
For Paulo Moutinho, an IPAM researcher, the alarming increase in fires in the Brazilian Amazon is largely due to the progress of deforestation and not to the dry season (which this year, he says, has not caused a drought as severe as in years above), as the Bolsonaro government maintains.
In an interview with Reuters, Moutinho explained that the lack of prevention is what causes fires deliberately started to clear an already deforested area to open roads or prepare the land for cultivation, “spread to areas that did not want to burn and that they are drier. ”
For his part, the Brazilian president has gone beyond the dry season to explain the cause of the fires and has come to say, without presenting any evidence, that non-governmental organizations could have started the fires to undermine their authority.
Fire deforestation correlation
A new investigation by IPAM and the Federal University of Acre, in Brazil, contradicts the government’s explanation with strong results.
According to the study, the number of fires in the Amazon is directly related to deforestation: the ten municipalities in the region with the most deforestation warnings are the ones that suffered the most fires in the year.
“The ten Amazonian municipalities that reported the most fire outbreaks were also those with the highest deforestation rates. These municipalities are responsible for 37% of the fire outbreaks in 2019 and 43% of the deforestation recorded until July,” he says. the text.
“This concentration of forest fires in recently deforested areas with mild drought represents a strong indication of the intentional nature of the fires: the cleanliness of recently deforested areas,” he adds.
As he explained to the BBC Brazil the climatologist Carlos Nobre, this correlation was expected: normally, those who want to clear a forest space first take away the trees and, after a few months, burn it.
“The dynamic is as follows: they clear the forest, wait a few months for it to dry and then set it on fire. If you try to do it the next day it doesn’t burn, because the vegetation is wet,” he says.
“It takes a couple of months to wait, and then it catches fire. And always, every year, August and September are the months with the highest number of fires,” the researcher, who did his Ph.D. at MIT, tells the BBC, in the United States.
Likewise, climate change contributes to the problem. Although it is not the cause, it has made the jungle more vulnerable to flames, Jos Barlow, a professor of Conservation Science at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, told BBC News.
“Only the temperature rises, which are already occurring in the Amazon, make the jungle more flammable.”