Amazon's wildfire season will coincide with peak of pandemic, warns specialist

More than 10 thousand km² of deforestation might serve as fuel for wildfires that start in August in the region

Translated by: Thiago Moyano

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |
Between August 2018 and July 2019, deforestation in the Amazon increased by 34% compared to the same period last year - Ibama

Between August 2018 and July 2019, deforestation in the Amazon grew 34% compared to the same period last year. In total, over 10,000 km² of forest were lost, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe by its Brazilian Portuguese acronym).

In addition to such significant loss in the most important biome on Earth, deforestation in the region may have a worrying effect for Brazil, a country which is still fighting the rising number of COVID-19 victims. This is because, as stated by experts, fires could coincide with the peak of the pandemic. 

Antonio Oviedo, an environmental technician at the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA by its Brazilian Portuguese acronym), who has been working in the Amazon for more than 15 years with natural resource management, affirms, “I think we are going to enter a very critical period now, which is the wildfire season that will coincide with a possible peak of this pandemic. And we know based on several studies, that air quality is a variable that interferes in the statistics of hospitalizations for respiratory cases. And this disease aggravates people's respiratory systems. So you have an upcoming tragedy announced there”.

For him, the increase in deforestation means, in practice, more fuel for fires and more toxic smoke in the atmosphere.

“So, you have a bomb ready to go off in a pandemic period. There is a lot of biomass to be burned. Therefore, it is very important that the institutions are attentive. Health agencies need to work in tandem with supervisory bodies. These illegal activities, especially in the Amazon, also have to be seen as a public health issue right now,” warns Oviedo.
Bolsonaro's government policies, however, have not raised much concern on public health or the preservation of the environment.

With ongoing devastation policies of public entities, such as the National Indian Foundation (Funai by its Portuguese acronym), and the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama by its Portuguese acronym), Indigenous populations have been the only ones defending the life of the forests. Historically, they have been the ones to preserve more and suffer more from outcomes of deforestation.

The Apurinã people, inhabitants of the Amazon's southern region, have lived for more than 300 years on the banks of the Purus River. The region is called the last frontier, due to its exclusive aerial or fluvial access. Makupanari Apurinã, 33, says that even there, it is already possible to notice the progress of the destruction.

“Last week we had a group of indigenous people who went to the southern part of the Peneri / Tacaquiri land, and already brought us back information that deforestation is high in the region. They saw about 6 chainsaws at work,” says Makupanari who is also an environmental engineer.

Makupanari believes that deforestation has been (and will be) even greater, since the surveillance rounds of the indigenous people and organs have not been active due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Makupanari affirms that this year there could be a threefold intensification of the fires that occurred in the Amazon last year, which would worsen the emissions of smoke and atmospheric pollution.

Edited by: Leandro Melito