Pantanal suffers from a rise in wildfires and obliges governments to take emergency measures

There are concerns that the biome will repeat what was seen in 2020, a record year for fires

Translated by: Ana Paula Rocha

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
In Brazil, the Pantanal biome is in the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, in central-western Brazil - Foto: Joédson Alves/Agência Brasil

The Pantanal is dealing with intense wildfire activity. From January to June 17 this year, fire outbreaks in the biome increased by 1,500% compared from 2023 to 2024, according to data from Brazil’s Institute for Space Research (INPE, in Portuguese).

In June alone, 1,434 fires were recorded during the first 18 days of the month. This figure is much higher than that of June 2020, a year with record fires in the Pantanal. There were 406 fires in the month of that year.

Cyntia Santos, a conservation analyst at WWF-Brazil, says there is a natural dynamic to fires in the Pantanal, with fire often being used, for instance, to renew vegetation that has adapted to the system. But she points out that the dynamics observed today, with increasing records, are different.

"What we currently have is a different dynamic due to droughts and spaces where the climate is interfering, making it much drier, with less rainfall and lower relative humidity, which increases threats of fire outbreaks in the region that could get out of control due to all these elements we have today," she explains.

In response to the alarming situation, the governments of the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, where the Pantanal biome is, have announced investments and a ban on the use of fire on properties.

In addition to changes in climate patterns, the current rise in wildfire occurrences can also be explained by agribusiness in the region, according to Cyntia.

"We need to remember that the Pantanal is a biome highly interdependent with the Cerrado biome and the Amazon. It is part of the Upper Paraguay river basin. This configuration places it on a plain much lower than the plateau up there in the Cerrado, where the Pantanal water sources are. In these areas, there are also intense dynamics happening quite fast and changing land use by economic activities, such as agriculture, livestock, mining and many others that very quickly alter the dynamics of the soil and suppress native vegetation," she says.

She explains that the Pantanal headwaters contribute to the flow of water during the rainy season, from December to March, and to the dynamics of droughts and floods. "Allied to this, we have the dynamics of the Amazon. Science has shown the theory of flying rivers, which is responsible for the rainfall level in the country, which also affects the Pantanal Plain. Once these dynamics are altered – and the current rapid change of the last 15 years is part of it – they have a direct and indirect effect. Therefore, we have the result we have seen: silted rivers, and diminishing and compromised springs."

The WWF-Brazil conservation analyst, who has participated in talks on the topic with governments, also mentions what needs to be done to curb the high rate of fires in the biome.

"There needs to be a lot of planning because we must have an emergency response when there is a wildfire. Measures must be taken. There need to be firefighters, equipment, and access to water in these areas with interventions. We know that the dynamics of the Pantanal, in terms of logistics, are very different: many isolated areas that are difficult to reach," Cyntia said.

The full interview, by Luana Ibelli, is available in Wednesday's edition of Central do Brasil, on Brasil de Fato's YouTube channel (in Portuguese).

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Central do Brasil is produced by Brasil de Fato. The show is broadcast live from Monday to Friday, always at 1 pm, on Rede TVT and partner stations.


Edited by: Martina Medina