Disasters & Accidents

Brazil’s Amazon region suffered 2nd most fires in past decade in August

By Maria Angelica Troncoso

Rio de Janeiro, Sep 1 (efe-epa).- Brazil’s Amazon region in August registered some 30,000 forest fires, the second largest number for the month in the past decade, exceeded only by some 5 percent more fires during the same month last year when images of the flames in the world’s largest tropical forest sped around the globe, sparking worldwide indignation.

Despite the fact that the number of fires in Amazonia has declined in August, there were still 12.4 percent more than the historical average for the month of 26,082 fires, according to figures released on Tuesday by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

This year, the fires have been occurring with almost the same frequency as in 2019 in the Amazon region of Brazil, but the most affected portion of the country was the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, where the fires increased by 220 percent during the same period.

Brazil’s Amazon in August this year registered 29,307 fires compared with the 30,900 it suffered during the same month in 2019, a figure that could change since there were satellite problems on Aug. 16 that resulted in a portion of the huge zone remaining unobserved on that date.

Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, a total of 91,130 fires have been tallied throughout Brazil, 0.7 percent more than in 2019, with the west-central state of Mato Grosso being the most heavily affected area with 17 percent more fires than it experienced last year.

In Mato Grosso, which borders on Bolivia and includes a large part of the Pantanal, although it is also part of the Amazon region, there were 19,606 fires in the first eight months of the year.

That state was followed by Para with 14,521 fires (+16 percent), Amazonas with 10,645 (+27 percent) and Acre with 4,440 (+18 percent), all three of which are in Amazonia.

This year, the fires have been concentrated in the west-central region of the country, especially in the Pantanal, which Brazil shares with Bolivia and Paraguay although 56 percent of the wetland zone is in the territory of the Portuguese-speaking nation.

This year, the fires in Brazil have burned more than 10 percent of the Pantanal.

Although during the first eight months of 2019 there were 3,165 fires in the region, so far this year there have been 10,153, a 220.8 percent increase.

Just in August, 5,935 fires have been detected in the Pantanal, 251 percent more than in July and the largest number in the wetland since 2005.

Despite these figures, the number of fires in Brazil actually declined by 2.4 percent in August compared with the same month last year.

Experts consulted by EFE said that the increase in the fires in the wetland zone is due to the increase in illegal deforestation, which has been growing year to year, causing a series of changes in the local climate such as altering the natural rain cycle.

This year, there was not enough precipitation in the Pantanal during the rainy season sending the rainfall levels to their lowest levels in recent years.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration, considering the situation last year, decided in May to send army troops to several regions in Amazonia to help prevent fires and combat deforestation.

The strategy had little effect on the overall situation in the world’s biggest forest and did not include the Pantanal.

Between May and August, the period during which the army was deployed in the region, there were 39,187 fires in Amazonia, just about the same number detected in 2019 (38,952).

The Weather Observatory, a network including more than 50 civil organizations working on environmental issues in Brazil and worldwide, said that the strategy pursued by the Bolsonaro government was “a failure.”

The organization said that during the army deployment in the region, deforestation alerts increased by 34 percent over 2019, meaning that 2020 has been a year of record deforestation in the region with more than 12,000 square kilometers (4,600 square miles) of forest being destroyed from that cause alone.

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