In Brazil, the Amazon is on fire with general indifference

Despite a global mobilization last year, the lungs of the earth are threatened more than ever by thousands of fires. A disaster that continues in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic and, in general, indifference.

A year ago, the Amazon was broken under the annoyed gaze of the whole world. If the emotions have since subsided, the fires have started to rise again this summer and can prove to be more devastating than the year before. A total of 2,248 fire starts were registered in the Brazilian jungle in June compared to 1180 in 2019, according to satellite data fromNational Institute for Space Research Brazilian (INPE). A trend, which is confirmed in July with 6,803 fires that occurred in the region, compared to 5,318 in 2019.

As dramatic as they are, these figures are unfortunately “not a surprise”, estimates France 24, Cécile Leuba, forestry campaign manager for Greenpeace France. “All these fires are started deliberately by humans and are mostly linked to deforestation. However, deforestation increased by almost 35% between August 2019 and July 2020 “, she complains.

The illegal logs in particular intensified their activities during the containment: deforestation in the Amazon increased by 64% in April and during the first week of May compared to 2019. This massive deforestation is partly explained by the decrease in controls by environmental crime managers, linked to travel restrictions.

Read also >> Brazil: record deforestation in the Amazon in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic

Fires that become “uncontrollable”

Specifically, the landowners cut a lot of wood during the wet period, ie between January and June. They sold their stocks and then set fire to the brush during the dry season between June and July. In their eyes, burning the land is a way to clear space for their pastures and soybean fields, ”the specialist explains.

The ecological crisis is all the more real as it is exacerbated by global warming. “The more the temperature will rise, the drier the ecosystem and the more the fires will become uncontrollable,” worries Cécile Leuba. As a reminder, the fires in the Amazon last year consumed more than 900,000 hectares.

If a new record is likely to be reached this year, its echoes in the media as well as in the international community may be moved to the background. “The current context obviously does not help. Amazon made headlines last year when the news was a bit lax. But fires can hardly compete with a global pandemic “, comments Hervé Théry, a geographer who specializes in Brazil, interviewed by France 24.

A fire burns down an Amazon rainforest resort north of Sinop, state of Mato Grosso, Brazil on August 10, 2020. © Carl de Souza, AFP

Impunity for illegal loggers

Deforestation can continue, especially as its leaders benefit from an almost total climate of impunity. “We have identified 207 owners who illegally set fire to protected reserves. Only 5% of them were fined for what they had done “details France Info, Romulo Batista, Amazon campaign for Greenpeace Brazil. This impunity is above all a contempt of Brazilian power for ecological issues. Once again this year, President Jair Bolsonaro vehemently denied the existence of forest fires in the Amazon, citing “a lie”, despite government allegations that thousands of fires had broken out in the region.

Already last year, the right-wing leader denied an increase in fires, despite pressure from the international community. “The situation is different. Jair Bolsonaro discredits the government’s figures but also those for INPE, which are still based on satellite analyzes. This is raw, scientific data that is benchmarks and that we cannot oppose, ”insists Cécile Leuba. “Likewise, Greenpeace teams regularly fly over the region and have taken pictures where the fires can be seen very clearly. We can not close our eyes, “adds the specialist.

“The Bible, the bullets and the oxen”

But ecological problems hardly fit into the policy of a notoriously climate-skeptical head of state. Bolsonaro multiplies the provocations by addressing his constituents, these famous “three B’s” (the Bible, the bullets, the oxen) that bring together evangelical religious, the military, and the landowners. For him, the development of his land means only opening up protected land for mining and agriculture. There is therefore little reason for the situation to change, says Hervé Théry.

It is still that fires risk worsening the health situation in addition to the ecological disaster, say researchers. The fires could cause more respiratory diseases and saturate the health system in a region already weakened by Covid-19.