Rio de Janeiro
Without noise, arson continues to consume the Brazilian forest in this month of August, in favor of the dry season. The fires are certainly less spectacular than last year, when a huge cloud of smoke darkened the sky over the megalopolis of Sao Paulo, thousands of kilometers from the Amazon in broad daylight. But they continue to devour the world's largest rainforest, despite repeated denials from President Jair Bolsonaro. In August 2019, already, the dramatic images of the forest on fire had moved the world and put Jair Bolsonaro on the dock. "This story of Amazonia on fire is a lie," he repeated this week during a regional summit on the Amazon.
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The figures contradict him. From August 2019 to July 2020 - the period taken into account by scientists to measure deforestation - deforestation increased by 34% compared to 2018-2019 which was already a record year, revealed the still provisional data of the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) which measures forest losses by satellite. Thus, 9,207 km2 of forest disappeared under the assaults of loggers, gold miners, farmers and breeders when the world's attention was monopolized by the coronavirus.
The government does not fight deforestation, it does not have a strategy for the AmazonMarcio Astrini, Executive Secretary of the Climate Observatory
The fires have increased by almost 18% from January to June compared to the same period in 2019. And the situation promises to worsen: “We are only at the beginning of the dry season. The fires start in the west, in Mato Grosso, then spread east, in Para, the two states that suffer most from deforestation. The peak occurs in September and October before the onset of the rains, ” warns Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a coalition of around thirty environmental NGOs.
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"The big reason for the increase in deforestation is the Bolsonaro effect , in power since January 2019," says the environmental activist. The government is not fighting deforestation, it has no strategy for the Amazon. Worse, the measures it takes are stimulating deforestation. I would say deforestation has increased because loggers have found a partner in the federal government. ” He is accused of paralyzing agencies fighting against deforestation and promoting illegal exploitation of the Amazon.
"96% of fires are of human origin"
The Brazilian president has always been indifferent to these criticisms, which he says are provoked by the appetite of foreign countries for the riches of the Amazon. But this year, the government is on the defensive against threats from foreign investment funds to withdraw billions of dollars from Brazil. Or the big Brazilian banks that refuse to finance meat or soybeans from deforestation.
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In May, the government banned agricultural burning for three months and dispatched the army to the Amazon. Without much effect. In June, the number of fires increased by 19.6% compared to the record year of 2019. Jair Bolsonaro nonetheless celebrated a substantial 28% drop in deforestation in July compared to last year. But for Marcio Astrini, it is a deceptive drop: "This figure is still 45% above the average for recent years and the second worst in history."
In the south of the Amazon, another tragedy is playing out in the Pantanal, the largest flooded plain on the planet and a biodiversity sanctuary highly prized by tourists. “Since January, everything is on fire, ” laments Felipe Dias, executive director of the SOS Pantanal association. More than 10% of the vegetation cover in this 150,000 km2 area has already burned. Its very rich fauna is also threatened, such as the great blue macaw, recently saved from extinction. With 2,500 fires, the first two weeks of August were up 240% over the same period last year.
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Once again, man is the big culprit. “96% of fires are of human origin”, started by farmers who develop their pastures, notes Felipe Dias. The fires have taken a dramatic turn this year due to a historic drought, the Rio Paraguay which usually submerges the plains being at its lowest level in forty-seven years, explains this water resources engineer. However, this drought, which favors fires and therefore the destruction of the forest, is itself favored by the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which plays less of its role of "great distributor of rain" on the Pantanal, accuses Marcio Astrini. A vicious circle which makes fear the worst for the great forests of Brazil.