The number of fires in Brazil’s Amazon basin is still on the rise, even though the government has banned burning, officials said on Saturday.
In the first 48 hours since the ban was issued, satellite data from the Brazilian National Space Research Institute showed 3,859 new outbreaks of fire, of which about 2,000 were concentrated in the Amazon region.
From January to the end of last month, 51.9 percent of Brazil’s recorded 88,816 fires were in the rainforest, according to the institute, a number experts call a dramatic, direct consequence of farmers’ widespread deforestation.
Brazil’s Amazon region is in its dry season, but experts said that this year has been wetter than previous years — they also stressed that there are no natural fires in the Amazon.
The no-burn decree might have been too little too late and more of a political than practical gesture, some analysts have said.
Deforestation has surged this year as agencies tasked with monitoring illegal activities were weakened by right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Often called the Trump of the Tropics, Bolsonaro has questioned climate change and argued that farmers sometimes need the land for their livelihood.
Since last weekend, thousands of troops, firefighters and aircraft have been deployed, and the Brazilian Ministry of Defense has said the fires are under control.
Bolsonaro claimed in a live Facebook broadcast on Thursday that “this year’s fires are below the average of recent years.”
Deforestation for farming is one of the most serious threats to the rainforest and is a problem in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.
Farmers in Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia commonly set fires in the dry season to clear the undergrowth in deforested areas.
However, this often leads to uncontrolled burning, which takes a greater toll on the rainforest.
Much to environmentalists’ chagrin, the Bolivian government has authorized farmers to burn 20 hectares instead of the usual 5 hectares — which is believed to have contributed to thousands of wildfires that razed 1.2 million hectares of grassland and forest since May.
Illegal crops also reduce the rainforest, such as Colombian coca cultivation, which covers about 170,000 hectares, according to UN data.
Significant damage is also done by illegal mining operations, which is compounded by the use of chemicals such as mercury — particularly in gold mining — which contaminates soil and streams.
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