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G7 commits $20 million to Amazon as new fires flare up in world's largest rainforest

Aircraft have poured thousands of litres of water on the rainforest.

A fire burns on the margins of the city of Porto Velho.
A fire burns on the margins of the city of Porto Velho.
Image: Eraldo Peres/AP/Press Association Images

HUNDREDS OF NEW fires have flared up in the Amazon in Brazil, even as military aircraft dumped water over hard-hit areas and G7 nations pledged $20 million to help combat the blazes.

Two C-130 Hercules aircraft carrying thousands of litres of water on Sunday began dousing fires raging across the world’s largest rainforest, which is seen as crucial to combatting climate change.  

Swathes of the remote region have been scorched by the worst fires in years. 

Experts say increased land clearing during the months-long dry season to make way for crops or grazing has aggravated the problem this year.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has ordered an investigation into reports that rural producers in the northern state of Para held a “day of fire” on 10 August in a show of support for the far-right leader’s efforts to weaken environmental protection monitoring in the region.

“We must respond to the call of the forest which is burning today in the Amazon,” France’s Emmanuel Macron said as President Sebastian Pinera of Chile, a guest of the G7, underlined that “countries of the Amazon are in dire need of fire brigades and water bomber planes”.

Macron had declared the situation an “international crisis” and made it a priority of the summit of the G7, which comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Diplomatic row

The worsening crisis has fueled a row between Bolsonaro and Macron, who has been piling pressure on the Brazilian leader to do more to protect the forest.

Macron today condemned “extraordinarily rude” comments made about his wife Brigitte by Bolsonaro a day earlier. Bolsonaro hit back, accusing Macron of treating Brazil like “a colony or no-man’s land”.

The row comes as G7 nations meeting in southwestern France agreed to spend $20 million on the Amazon, mainly to send fire-fighting aircraft. 

The G7 club also agreed to support a medium-term reforestation plan which will be unveiled at the UN in September. 

Brazilian environment minister Ricardo Salles told reporters the G7 funding was welcomed.

Although about 60 percent of the Amazon is in Brazil, the vast forest also spreads over parts of eight other countries or territories.

Bolivian President Evo Morales said yesterday that he would accept international help to combat wildfires raging in his country’s southeast as he suspended his election campaign to deal with the crisis. 

The country took delivery Friday of a Boeing 747-400 “supertanker” capable of carrying 150,000 litres of water. 

Brazil has accepted help from Israel, which offered to send an aircraft.  

Seven states, including Rondonia, have requested the Brazilian army’s help in the Amazon, where more than 43,000 troops have been made available to combat fires.

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It is not clear how many of them are actually involved in fire-fighting efforts so far.

On Friday Bolsonaro vowed a “zero tolerance” approach to criminal activities in the Amazon and promised strong action to control the blazes.

Bolsonaro’s delayed response came as the Amazon crisis threatened to torpedo the Mercosur trade deal between the European Union and South American countries, including Brazil. 

Thousands have taken to the streets in recent days to denounce the destruction. 

Leo Varadkar has threatened that Ireland will vote against the Mercosur trade deal unless Brazil takes steps to protect the Amazon.

The latest official figures show 80,626 forest fires have been recorded in Brazil this year, the highest number of any year since at least 2013.  

More than half of the fires are in the massive Amazon basin. 

Some 1,113 new fires were ignited across Saturday and Sunday, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research.

© – AFP 2019

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