New footage shows record number of fires in Amazon - despite Brazil's leader calling blazes a 'lie'

 The first two weeks of August saw more than 15,000 fires, according to data from INPE, Brazil’s space agency

Louise Boyle
New York
Wednesday 19 August 2020 18:08 BST
New footage shows Amazon fires worsening

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Louise Thomas

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The Amazon is being consumed by a record number of fires, according to new video captured this week.

Over the past month, 20,473 blazes were recorded in the region. The first two weeks of August saw more than 15,000 fires, according to data from INPE, Brazil’s space agency.

Footage from 16 August, taken by Greenpeace, revealed the extent of the fire damage and the choking clouds of smoke rising to the atmosphere.

Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro insisted earlier this month that there are no fires in the Amazon rainforest, calling evidence produced by his own government showing thousands of blazes a “lie”.

Bolsonaro has been an enthusiastic ring-leader to miners, cattle ranchers and loggers pushing into one of the planet's richest regions of biodiversity, and the home of thousands of indigenous peoples.

In July, the Brazilian government instituted a three-month "moratorium" on fires in the Amazon following the deployment of troops earlier in the year to prevent blazes being started.

The moves appear to have ineffective as the fires continue to rage across the world's large rainforest.

Cristiane Mazzetti, Amazon campaigner for Greenpeace Brazil, said: “The figures show that banning fires alone doesn't work. It is essential to enhance monitoring and enforcement capacity of experienced agencies in order to really curb environmental destruction. But Bolsonaro´s administration has continued to systematically dismantle environmental protection and undermine the work of such agencies."

Between July 16 and August 15, Amazon fires dropped by just 8 per cent compared to the same period in 2019 - despite the apparent "moratorium" on fires.

Fires stretch across vast swathes of the Amazon, filling the air with acrid smoke
Fires stretch across vast swathes of the Amazon, filling the air with acrid smoke (© Christian Braga / Greenpeace)

Halting the destruction of rainforests is a surefire way to help curb the climate crisis. According to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), human-caused, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must drop by around 45 per cent by 2030 from 2010 levels, if we are ever to achieve "net zero" by mid-century and avoid even more catastrophic climate breakdown.

Fires in the Amazon are not natural occurrences, they are man-made. Blazes are deliberately set by ranchers and land-grabbers to expand agricultural operations and cattle grazing.

There is also a disturbing increase of fires being set on indigenous lands. On Munduruku indigenous land, a 78 per cent increase in fires was recorded from last year, Greenpeace reported.

“Instead of combating criminal behavior and protecting Indigenous forest guardians already hit hard by COVID-19, this government continues to reduce environmental protection and ally itself with those who want to destroy the forest”, says Ms Mazzetti said.

Last year, saw the highest rate of deforestation in the Amazon in a decade, partially fuelled by fires.

Communities in the Amazon are bracing for the smoke that blankets the region during the fire season, typically at its height between August and November.

Dr Guilherme Pivoto, an infectologist in Amazonas state in the northern region of the rainforest, told Reuters last month that worsening air quality from soot and smoke could exacerbate precarious respiratory conditions of coronavirus patients.

“Those that contract Covid have a higher chance of an interaction between the pollution and Covid-19, causing drawn-out cases with more symptoms,” Dr Pivoto said.

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