The number of forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon so far this year has already exceeded that of all of 2021, according to official figures released on Monday that have raised fresh alarm for the world’s largest rainforest.
Satellite monitoring detected 75,592 fires from Jan. 1 to Sept. 18, already more than the 75,090 detected for all of last year, according to Brazil’s space agency INPE.
The latest grim news from the rainforest will likely add pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro, who is vying for re-election next month and faces international criticism over increased destruction in the Amazon under his watch.
Since the far-right agribusiness ally took office in January 2019, average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 75% compared to the previous decade, destroying the forest cover of an area almost the size of Puerto Rico last year.
Experts say the fires in the Amazon are mainly caused by illegal farmers, ranchers and speculators clearing land and burning trees.
Despite the advance of destruction, the Bolsonaro administration has cut budgets for environmental law enforcement operations and pushed to open protected lands in the Amazon to mining.
Greenpeace Brazil spokesman Andre Freitas called the latest figures “a tragedy foretold”.
“After four years of clear and objective anti-environmental policy on the part of the federal government, we find that as we approach the end of this government’s mandate – one of the darkest periods in history of the Brazilian environment – land grabbers and other illegal actors see it as the perfect opportunity to advance on the forest,” he said in a statement.
Election year line
This year has been concerning for the Amazon, a key buffer against global warming.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon last month was almost double the August 2021 figure, at 1,661 square kilometers (641 square miles).
And since the fire season really started in August with the arrival of drier weather, the number of fires has skyrocketed.
According to INPE figures, there were several days that surpassed the so-called “Fire Day” on August 10, 2019, when farmers launched a coordinated plan to burn huge amounts of felled rainforest in the northern state of Para.
Then the fires sent thick gray smoke as far as Sao Paulo, some 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) away, and sparked a global outcry following images of one of the world’s most vital resources of the burning Earth.
Bolsonaro vehemently rejects this criticism, insisting that Brazil “protects its forests much better than Europe” and pushing back international alarm with the line: “The Amazon belongs to the Brazilians, and always will.”
Former Leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva Former Leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pledged to do a better job of protecting the Amazon.
Deforestation in Brazil’s 60% Amazon Basin fell sharply under Lula, from nearly 28,000 square kilometers in 2004 to 7,000 in 2010.
Yet he has been criticized by environmentalists for his own record, which notably included the controversial decision to build the massive Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon.
And the largest number of fires ever recorded in the Brazilian Amazon by INPE, whose records date back to 1998, were under its watch: 218,637, in 2004.
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