International outcry prompted Norway and Germany to halt donations to Brazil's Amazon fund, that supports many environmental NGOs, and government agencies.

International pressure mounts on Brazil to address fires in Amazon rainforestPhoto courtesy: Cristiano Ronaldo/Twitter
news Amazon fires Friday, August 23, 2019 - 13:07

The Amazon rainforest in Brazil is experiencing a record amount of fires this year -- more than 74,000 outbreaks so far -- an 84% increase from the same period in 2018, according to data from the country's space agency.

The National Institute for Space Research (IPNE) said it detected more than 74,000 fires between January 1 and August 20 -- the highest since it began recording in 2013. According to the agency, there have been more than 9,500 forest fires since August 15, mostly in the Amazon region.

In response to growing international pressure to deal with this crisis, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who had initially said that some non-governmental organisations had started the fire after the government withdrew their funding, he later said that farmers could be responsible for starting the fires.

Environmental activists, however, blamed President Bolsonaro for the current situation, saying he encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land. Scientists say the rainforest has suffered losses at an accelerated rate since he took office in January.

Bolsonaro, however, brushed off the latest data.

He also blamed media organisations of using the wildfires to undermine his government and added that the media wanted Brazil to end up like Venezuela, which is experiencing political and economic instability.

"I do not defend the burnings, because there always was and always will be burnings. Unfortunately, this has always happened in the Amazon," Bolsonaro told the media on Thursday. “But accusing me of being a Captain Nero setting fire to things is irresponsible. It is campaigning against Brazil.”

There were slightly more than 40,000 in the same period of 2018 as opposed to the 74,000 outbreaks in 2019, the IPNE said. However, the worst recent year was 2016, with more than 68,000 fires in that period.

Furthermore, the head of Brazil's space agency was fired in July after President Bolsonaro disputed the official deforestation data from satellites.

NGO Greenpeace said that the wildfires were so intense that smoke loomed over the city of Sao Paulo, more than a thousand miles away, plunging the city into literal darkness around 3 pm local time on August 19. Satellite images also showed Brazil's most northern state, Roraima, covered in dark smoke, while neighbouring Amazonas state declared an emergency over the fires. The hashtags #PrayforAmazonas and #AmazonRainforest were trending on Twitter on Wednesday.

US space agency NASA said: "Although it is not unusual to see fires in Brazil at this time of year due to high temperatures and low humidity it seems this year the number of fires may be record setting." NASA satellite images showed that the wildfires in the Brazilian rainforest is creating cross country smoke.

According to reports, there was a sharp spike in deforestation during July, which was followed by extensive burning in August. 

Local newspapers said farmers in some regions were organizing "fire days" to take advantage of weaker enforcement by the authorities.

Since Bolsonaro took power, the environment agency issued fewer penalties and ministers made clear that their sympathies were with loggers rather than the indigenous groups who live in the forest, reports say.

International outcry prompted Norway and Germany to halt donations to Brazil's Amazon fund, which supports many environmental NGOs as well as government agencies. There have also been calls for Europe to block a trade deal with Brazil and other South American nations.

Apart from several celebrities who have been posting on social media highlighting the fires, on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macaron called the Amazon fires an “international crisis” while urging the G7 Summit happening this weekend to look at the issue.

“Our house is on fire. Literally,” he tweeted.

However, Bolsonaro hit out at Macron for having a “colonialist mentality”. "The French president's suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evokes a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century," he tweeted.

The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It is also home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.

Bolivia is also experiencing unusually large wildfires that have reportedly destroyed 5,180 sq km (2,000 sq miles) of forest. 

(IANS inputs)

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