Brazil faces renewed pressure to protect Amazon rainforest

As Brazilians mark Amazon Day, rights groups say an ‘alarming’ number of wildfires has been detected in the region.

Brazil Amazon rainforest wildfire
Satellite images from Brazil's space research institute identified more than 29,000 fires in the Amazon region in August [Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is under renewed criticism over widespread wildfires in the country’s Amazon rainforest, which rights groups say have reached an “alarming” level so far this year.

A group of environmental NGOs launched a website called Defund Bolsonaro this week, AFP news agency reported, urging potential investors in Brazil to insist on firm government commitments to protect the Amazon.

“Bolsonaro’s government has taken the destruction of the Amazon to unbearable levels,” the website says.

“To save the Amazon, we must defund Bolsonaro and turn the protection of the Amazon in a ‘must-have’ condition for development, business and investment.”

The campaign comes as Brazilians marked Amazon Day on Saturday, an annual commemoration of the creation of the present-day state of Amazonas.

Firefighter Brazil Amazon rainforest wildfire
A firefighter monitors a spot fire in an area of the Amazon rainforest, near Porto Velho, Rondonia State, Brazil [File: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

About 60 percent of the Amazon basin region is in Brazil.

Since devastating wildfires ripped through the area last year, Bolsonaro’s government has faced global pressure to do more to protect the world’s largest rainforest, seen as vital to containing the impact of climate change.

Amnesty International warned on Thursday that “an alarming number of new fires have been detected” in the region so far this burning season.

The rights group said Brazil’s space research institute (INPE) estimated that about 63,000 fires had been detected between the start of the year and August 31.

It also said deforestation had increased by 34.5 percent between August 2019 and July 2020 compared with the same period a year earlier, and it had destroyed about 9,205 square kilometres (3,554 square miles) of the forest.

“As fires again rapidly expand this burning season, it’s abundantly clear that the Brazilian military doesn’t have the expertise or experience required to stop those torching the forest and illegally seizing protected land,” Richard Pearshouse, Amnesty’s head of environment and crisis, said in a statement.

Brazil Amazon rainforest wildfires
The Brazilian government has faced global pressure to do more to protect the world’s largest rainforest [Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

Under international pressure, Bolsonaro has deployed the army to the Amazon region to crack down on deforestation and fires, and decreed a ban on all agricultural burning.

But the far-right Brazilian leader this week denounced what he said was an international conspiracy, accusing him of being responsible for the fires.

“You know that NGOs don’t have a voice with me. I am firm with these people, but I can’t kill this cancer that most NGOs are,” Bolsonaro said during his regular Facebook broadcast on Thursday.

Satellite images from INPE, the Brazilian space research institute, identified more than 29,000 fires in the region in August, the second-highest number in 10 years.

The figure represents only 5 percent fewer fires than in 2019.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies