Divija Vaish, a grade 11 student.
Last year the world was shocked by the massive fires raging in the Amazon forest. This year, the fires could be even more devastating. This, despite a government ban on forest fires.
The world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon is home to over 400 billion trees and represents 60% of all rainforests remaining. The region offers incredible biodiversity, having 10% of all plant and animal species known to us.
Often called “the lungs of the world”, the rainforest absorbs around 86% of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere each year and is responsible for producing 20% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. The Amazon rainforest is our best way to combat climate change.
Yet, we are losing the Amazon rainforest at a rate of more than one football field per minute.
Why are there so many forest fires?
Forest fires are used for clearing the vegetation in the areas where trees have been cut down to prepare the land. Deforestation of the Amazon has been happening for many years. The Royal Statistical Institute estimates that deforestation has led to the loss of an equivalent of 8.4 million soccer fields of forest cover in the region in the past decade. Logging, demand for land for commercial uses, cattle grazing, soybean farming, and palm oil production are some of the reasons for the massive deforestation.
Why are we so worried now?
The rate of deforestation, and consequently the number of forest fires, has increased since Jair Bolsonaro became President of Brazil in January 2019. As per Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the institute that monitors fires and deforestation, there has been a jump of nearly 30% in the number of fires in July 2020 as compared to July 2019.
Bolsonaro has been pro-business in his policies and has encouraged agricultural and mining activities in the Amazon. This has come at the cost of the environment. At first, he permitted people to carry out acts of deforestation, which included the slash-and-burn method (the method of cutting down trees and then burning the remainder of their stumps, to clear land for raising cattle, farming, etc.). Then he decreased the rate of fines that are imposed on people who cause forest fires. When the Amazon started burning last year, he refused to acknowledge the extent to which the fires had spread. In 2019, when the INPE published a report that said that the number of forest fires in August was up by 84% as compared to the same period in 2018, Bolsonaro fired the director of the company and categorised all this information as “lies”. He said that the Amazon was “practically untouched.”
It is of little surprise then that businesses, farmers, loggers, and miners have taken advantage of the government’s attitude and the relaxed implementation of deforestation laws in the country and seized lands for development.
After some international investors in Brazilian companies pressure the Bolsonaro government, it ordered a 120-day ban on fires. However, as data from INPE shows, the ban has been ineffective.
Where do we go from here?
Numerable sources, including the INPE, have said that July 2020 is just the beginning of the disaster. According to experts, August will be much, much worse. The months from June to December are the Amazon’s “dry period,” which is the period when nearly all forest fires occur. Once the fires and the deforestation (the primary cause of the fires) start, they go on for about fourteen months. Let’s not forget about the current pandemic situation and the fact that Brazil has the second-highest number of cases in the world. The smoke coming from the fires will have a serious impact on the respiratory systems of the people. According to Paul Barreto, a senior researcher at the Institute of People and the Environment of the Amazon, “We can expect a lot of fires in the coming weeks. The conditions are there to the tragedy we feared, of mixing fire, smoke and Covid-19.”