As global leaders meet, the Amazon rainforest burns

Photo: AFP

The fires that burned through the Amazon rainforest last month sparked international outcry and offers of help, but as world leaders meet in New York, the planet's largest rainforest remains engulfed in flames.

The latest satellite data from Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows 131,600 fires burning since January within the country, where 60 percent of the Amazon lies.

The fires, which are mostly caused by humans with the goal of clearing land for farming and cattle ranching, are having a grievous effect on the forest: the rate of deforestation in the Amazon has nearly doubled since far-right President Jair Bolsonaro came to power on January 1, with the equivalent of 110 football fields of land being cleared every hour.

Yet fires are at a seven-year high, according to INPE data, and despite a slight drop at the start of the month, the number of active fires recorded in Brazil from the start of the year to September 19 was up 56 percent over the same period in 2018. Nearly half of the blazes are in the Amazon.

Bolsonaro is a climate change skeptic, but last month he sent soldiers to help put out fires in the Amazon region after Brazil came under criticism at the G7 summit, with the host French President Emmanuel Macron among the most outspoken detractors.

Under that deployment, which was renewed Friday for another month, nearly 7,000 soldiers and 16 aircraft are fighting both the flames and "deforestation and illegal mining," Brazil's defense ministry said.

No end in sight

Environmental groups have little faith that Bolsonaro will change tack.

The government "wants to show that it is doing the best for the forest. In fact, it is doing its utmost for deforestation," said Greenpeace's Astrini.

"Brazil is running a campaign to show that it is taking care of the Amazon. It's a lie," he said.

And there's little to suggest that the fires are abating.

Between September 18 and 19, the number of forest fires in Rondonia state jumped to 242 from 12 just the day before, an increase of 1,915 percent, according to the INPE.

And on Friday the World Wide Fund for Nature warned of an "emergency situation in the biome" of the Pantanal wetland.

Fires have risen 351 percent since January in the Pantanal region, some 90 percent of which were set illegally.

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