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File photo - Fire in the Brazilian Amazon Alamy Stock Photo

More fires in Brazil's Amazon so far this year than all of 2021, new figures show

Satellite monitoring has detected 75,592 fires from 1 January to 18 September this year.

THE NUMBER OF forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon so far this year has already surpassed that recorded for all of 2021, according to official figures released today that triggered new alarm for the world’s biggest rainforest.

Satellite monitoring has detected 75,592 fires from 1 January to 18 September this year, already higher than the 75,090 detected for all of last year, according to the Brazilian space agency, INPE.

The latest grim news from the rainforest will likely add to pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro, who is fighting to win reelection next month and faces international criticism over a surge in destruction in the Amazon on his watch.

Since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 75% compared to the previous decade.

Greenpeace Brazil spokesman Andre Freitas called the latest figures a “tragedy foretold”.

“After four years of a clear and objective anti-environmental policy by the federal government, we are seeing that as this government’s term – one of the darkest periods ever for the Brazilian environment – comes to an end, land-grabbers and other illegal actors see it as the perfect opportunity to advance on the forest,” he said in a statement.

Election-year row

This has been a worrying year for the Amazon, a key buffer against global warming.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon last month was nearly double the figure from August 2021, at 1,661 square kilometres.

And since the burning season began in earnest in August with the arrival of drier weather, the number of fires has soared.

According to INPE figures, there have been multiple days that surpassed the so-called Day of Fire on 10 August 2019, when farmers launched a coordinated plan to burn huge amounts of felled rainforest in the northern state of Para.

Then, fires sent thick gray smoke all the way to Sao Paulo, some 2,500 kilometres away, and triggered a global outcry over images of one of Earth’s most vital resources burning.

Bolsonaro vehemently rejects that criticism, insisting Brazil “protects its forests much better than Europe” and batting away international alarm with the line: “The Amazon belongs to Brazilians, and always will.”

The front-runner vying to unseat him in next month’s presidential elections, leftist ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has vowed to do a better job protecting the Amazon.

Deforestation in Brazil’s 60% share of the Amazon basin fell sharply under Lula, from nearly 28,000 square kilometres in 2004 to 7,000 in 2010.

Still, he has faced criticism from environmentalists for his own track record, which notably included the controversial decision to build the massive Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon.

And the highest number of fires ever recorded in the Brazilian Amazon by INPE, whose records go back to 1998, was on his watch: 218,637, in 2004.

© AFP 2022

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