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Amazon fires: Jair Bolsonaro issues burning ban in Brazil

  • August 29, 2019

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro issued a 60-day ban on burning in Brazil on Thursday after data revealed hundreds of new blazes in the world’s biggest tropical rainforest.

The decree followed shortly after Bolsonaro’s diplomatic spat with French President Emmanuel Macron, who questioned Bolsonaro’s commitment to protecting the Amazon.

Coinciding with the country’s peak burning season, the decree permits fires in cases deemed beneficial for plant life as well as fires set by indigenous people in subsistence farming but prohibits other fires to clear land.

While some residents from the region believe that the ban can bring relief to the area, others are skeptical.

“The people who burn without a license are not going to obey,” said Rodrigo Junqueira from the Socio-Environmental Institute.

Read more: Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro wants Amazon nations to tackle fires

Enforcing the ban

More than 500 workers from the Brazilian environmental agency IBAMA said the government’s lack of support increased environmental crimes in the Amazon and elsewhere in the country. The agency questioned how the government can in practice enforce such a ban.

Xiangming Xiao, a plant ecologist at the University of Oklahoma in the United States, told AP that as both legal and illegal fires take place in Brazil, “it will be very challenging to identify and separate them.”

Read more: Amazon wildfires set to cause irreversible damage

United Nations calls for global meeting

Thousands of firefighters have been deployed to fight the fires, with large aircrafts pouring water over the most devastating blazes.

More people, particularly children and the elderly, have been suffering respiratory problems in Porto Velho, an Amazonian town shrouded in smoke in recent weeks.

International offers of help for combatting the fires is a hot-button issue in Brazil, with Bolsonaro and others insisting on the country’s sovereign rights over the Amazon.

Bolsonaro on Wednesday accused France and Germany of attempting to buy Brazil’s sovereignty after the G7 offered $20 million (€18 million) in aid.

New figures regarding the fires have been released after UN chief Antonio Guterres called on Thursday for a meeting for key countries to unite in fighting the blazes after large parts of Bolivia also became affected.

President Jair Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro’s decree puts a 60-day ban on fires during the peak burning season

More than 1,600 new fires were ignited between Tuesday and Wednesday, taking the year’s total to almost 85,000 — the highest number since 2010.

“We are strongly appealing for the mobilization of resources and we have been in contact with countries to see whether, during the high-level session of the General Assembly, there could be a meeting devoted to the mobilization of support to the Amazon,” Guterres said.

Read more: Brazil’s Bolsonaro and France’s Macron go head to head

Bolsonaro points fingers at activists

Brazil’s forest code normally allows farmers to set fires if they have licenses from environmental authorities. A sharp increase in fires has raised concerns that people were encouraged to carry-out more burns after Bolsonaro said rainforest protections were hindering economic development.

The president suggested, without citing evidence, that environmental groups were setting illegal fires to try destabilize his administration.

  • Congo Basin (picture alliance/ WILDLIFE)

    Raging wildfires around the world

    The Congo Basin

    According to Weather Source, over 6,900 fires have been recorded in Angola and 3,400 in DR Congo this week; compared to over 2,000 in Brazil. But experts say it’s difficult to compare. “Fire in Africa… is part of a cycle, people in the dry season set fire to bush rather than to dense, moist rainforest,” said Greenpeace’s Philippe Verbelen.

  • Firefighters and volunteers work to put out a fire in Bolivia.

    Raging wildfires around the world


    Almost a million hectares (3860 square miles) of forest and farmland have been destroyed in Bolivia over the past few weeks by largely unchecked wildfires, with scientists and indigenous leaders already branding it the country’s biggest disaster for biodiversity. Small farmers often practice the slash-and-burn method — known locally as chaqueo — as a quick and easy way to clear land.

  • Indonesian soldiers try to extinguish peatland fire (picture-alliance/Photoshot/H. Vavaldi)

    Raging wildfires around the world


    The start of the dry season has sparked Indonesia’s worst annual fire season since 2015. A state of emergency has been declared in six provinces, including Sumatra and the Riau Islands. Like Brazil, Indonesia is home to some of our planet’s oldest tropical forests, but large areas have been lost to agriculture or other commercial interests.

  • Flames and smoke from a forest fire are seen in the village of Valleseco, in the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, Spain (Reuters/B. Suarez)

    Raging wildfires around the world

    Gran Canaria, Spain

    A wildfire raged through the Spanish holiday island for over a week this month, threatening several parks rich in biodiversity and forcing thousands to evacuate. Spain is often threatened by massive forest fires, especially during the hot, arid summer months. Experts say climate change means these events will likely become more severe and frequent.

  • Wood burns on the forest floor in Russia (Imago Images/ITAR-TASS)

    Raging wildfires around the world


    Large swathes of land in Siberia have been engulfed by wildfires this season, prompting a state of emergency in four regions. Forest fires are a natural event in Siberia, but unusually warm weather this summer combined with strong winds meant a record 5.5 million hectares of forest was burning by mid-August, creating a cloud of smoke which covered a greater area than the EU!

  • Firefighters try to extinguish a fire burning near a house as a wildfire burns in Greece (REUTERS)

    Raging wildfires around the world


    Greece is on high alert as hot, windy weather fuels dozens of fires across the country. Hundreds of people had to be evacuated from the holiday island of Samos. Fires in Greece are often blamed on people ignoring safety rules during severe weather conditions, such as throwing away lit cigarettes or barbequing outdoors. More than 100 people were killed in a wildfire outside Athens in July 2018.

  • A fire fighter looks up at a bushfire in Australia

    Raging wildfires around the world


    Australia is no stranger to bushfires. But they are becoming increasingly common even during the winter months thanks to warmer-than-usual temperatures. Tinder-dry conditions have forced some states to bring forward the start of the bushfire danger season to August 1. Between August 22 – 23 this year Australia recorded 768 bushfires — slightly higher than the number of blazes burning in Bolivia.

  • Smoke billows as a wildfire destroys homes in Arizona (picture-alliance/AP)

    Raging wildfires around the world

    Arizona, United States

    Beginning on June 8, three wildfires in Central Arizona have burned through 14,000 acres of land. Wildfire season is usually quite active in Arizona due to its dry climate. Unless they pose a threat to human life, many fires are contained and managed rather than suppressed. On average, over 2% of the land has burned per decade since 1984 — a figure likely to increase as the climate warms.

    Author: Ineke Mules

mvb/sms (AFP, AP)

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