Deforestation continues to break records in Brazil, with the latest official data released Friday showing the worst figures in the annals for May and the first five months of the year.
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Environmentalists warn that 2020 is set to be the most devastating year ever for the Amazon rainforest, worse than 2019, when the upsurge in fires shocked the world. " We are facing a scenario of total disaster for the Amazon, " deplored Mariana Napolitano, scientific director of the Brazilian branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
According to data collected by satellite by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), 829 km2 of Amazon rainforest was deforested in May, 12% more than last year, the largest area since the launch of this statistical series, in 2015. Since the beginning of the year, deforestation has reached more than 2,000 km2, 34% more than in the same period of 2019.
The dry season not yet taken into account
These data are all the more worrying as they do not yet take into account the dry season, which is more conducive to fires, which begins in June. The Amazon Environmental Research Institute (Ipam) estimates that 9,000 km2 of already deforested forest could go up in smoke by August.
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Forest fires are mostly criminal, caused by slash-and-burn farmers in deforested areas to cultivate or graze livestock. Environmentalists accuse the government of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, a notorious climatosceptic, of promoting deforestation by calling for legalizing agriculture or mining activities in protected areas.
" The government has already shown its total disregard for the environment and the lives of Brazilians, " said Cristiane Mazzetti of Greenpeace in a statement. At a ministerial meeting in late April, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said he wanted to take advantage of "the fact that the press is focused on the coronavirus " to " pass reforms and soften the rules ", especially those related to protection of the Amazon.
Because of the health crisis, the public authorities have fewer human and financial means to protect the environment because of the pandemic, which has already killed more than 40,000 people in Brazil. In addition, an increase in forest fires could cause more respiratory problems and further overload the health system.
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