Brazilian Amazon fires surge in July

The number of forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon last month rose 28 percent from July 2019, satellite data showed Saturday, fueling fears the world’s biggest rainforest will again be devastated by fires this year.

Brazil’s national space agency, INPE, identified 6,803 fires in the Amazon region in July 2020, up from 5,318 the year before.

The figure is all the more troubling given that 2019 was already a devastating year for fires in the Amazon, triggering global outcry.

That has put pressure on Brazil, which holds around 60 percent of the Amazon basin region, to do more to protect the massive forest, seen as vital to containing the impact of climate change.

The fires are largely set to clear land illegally for farming, ranching and mining.

Activists accuse Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right climate change skeptic, of encouraging the deforestation with calls to open up the rainforest to agriculture and industry.

Under international pressure, Bolsonaro has deployed the army to fight the fires and declared a moratorium on burning. But activists say that does not go far enough to address the roots of the problem.

Fires rose 77 percent on indigenous lands and 50 percent on protected nature reserves from July 2019, environmental group Greenpeace said, showing how illegal activities are increasingly encroaching on those areas.

On July 30 alone, satellites detected 1,007 fires in the Amazon, INPE said.

That was the worst single day for fires in the month of July since 2005, said Greenpeace.

“More than 1,000 fires in a single day is a 15-year record and shows the government’s strategy of media-spectacle operations is not working on the ground,” Greenpeace spokesman Romulo Batista said in a statement.

“On paper, the fire moratorium prohibits burning, but it only works if there is also a response on the ground, with more patrols. Criminals aren’t known for obeying the law.”

Instead, the Bolsonaro administration has slashed the budget, staff and programs of environmental authority IBAMA.

“Everything that was working was thrown out the window,” Erika Berenguer, an Amazon ecologist at Oxford and Lancaster Universities, told AFP.

– ‘Conditions ripe’ –

Fire season in the Amazon typically runs from around June to October.

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