Forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon are "poisoning the air", causing a sharp increase in respiratory diseases, especially in babies, in a region heavily affected by Covid-19, according to a study published Wednesday. Last year, the fires that devastated the world's largest rainforest caused the hospitalization of 2,195 people with respiratory problems, according to a study conducted by several NGOs, including Human Rights Watch (HRW).
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Almost a quarter (467) were infants less than one year old and about half were over 60 years old. "Fires resulting from uncontrolled deforestation are poisoning the air millions of people breathe, affecting health throughout the Brazilian Amazon , " said in a joint statement HRW, the Amazon Institute for Environmental Research (IPAM) and the Institute for Health Policy Studies (IEPS). And in view of the latest data which shows alarming figures for deforestation and fires in the Amazon, the authors of this study fear an even worse situation in 2020, especially since the problem could be exacerbated due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The northern states of Brazil, particularly that of Amazonas, almost entirely covered by tropical forest, were severely affected, particularly in April and May. The situation has improved since then, but the resurgence of forest fires, which are usually more severe from August to October, could again saturate hospitals. Another study, published Tuesday by the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA), also shows an increase in hospitalizations among indigenous peoples at the height of the fires in the Amazon. Many specialists consider that these problems have only worsened since the coming to power in early 2019 of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
"The persistent inability of the Bolsonaro administration to fight this environmental crisis has immediate consequences for the health of the inhabitants of the Amazon, and long-term consequences for global climate change", denounced Maria Laura Canineu, director for Brazil to Human Rights Watch. But President Bolsonaro recently said that the fear-mongering remarks about a flaming Amazon were "lies". Satellite data collected by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), a public body, however, shows a 28% increase in fires in July compared to the same period last year.