With an area of 5.5 million km2, the Amazon is the largest tropical forest on the planet. Treasure of biodiversity, it is threatened by deforestation mainly due to agriculture, livestock and mining activities and is currently the prey of devastating forest fires.
Deforestation as the main cause
"Deforestation explains the majority of the fires," explains Paulo Moutinho, a researcher at the Amazon Institute of Environmental Research (IPAM). "Historically, they are linked to the advance of deforestation, combined with periods of intense dry season," he continues.
It's simple: nearly 20% of the Amazon rainforest has disappeared in fifty years, according to WWF. And the phenomenon is accelerating. In Brazil, led by climate scientist Jair Bolsonaro since January, deforestation was almost four times higher than in July 2018, according to the DETER (real-time detection of deforestation) system used by the National Research Institute. space (INPE).
Meanwhile, the Brazilian president hinted on Wednesday that NGOs may have sparked the fires that are currently affecting the Amazon to "draw attention" to Brasilia's suspension of subsidies for the preservation of the "lung of the planet". at the same time that climate week is being held in Salvador de Bahia with 3,000 delegates from 26 countries, a regional meeting on climate change coordinated by the UN.
"Lung of the planet"
Carbon wells, the Amazon rainforest absorbs more CO2 than it rejects: it stores 90 to 140 billion tonnes of CO2, or 14% of global CO2, which helps to regulate global warming, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). But this absorptive capacity drops due to deforestation. The Amazon rainforest also concentrates one third of the world's primary forests and, thanks to the Amazon River and its tributaries, 20% of the unfrozen freshwater.
These fires threaten this real green treasure. "First, there is a loss of biodiversity and the function of the forest, that of providing clouds to the atmosphere to produce rain," says Paulo Moutinho. The researcher adds: "Fumes over Amazonian cities have serious health consequences, cause serious respiratory problems."
This is the city of São Paulo yesterday at 3pm. It's located miles away from the Amazon forest - but the smoke was so intense it traveled to the city, turning the day into night. # PrayforAmazoniapic.twitter.com / CUsvVDA1pK- Alessandra Freitas (@aledmfreitas) August 20, 2019
Several decades to find the same vegetation
It will take "several decades" to find the "same density of vegetation" if there are no new fires in the Amazon, Paulo Moutinho despairs. "In some areas, the devastated areas are invaded by other species typical of drier areas, such as those of Cerrado (the Brazilian savanna)," he continues.
When asked about the fires, Brazilian Environment Minister Rocardo Salles said that "the government has mobilized all the relief workers and all the planes (...) who are now at work with all the regional governments" .
In South America, Brazil is the country most affected by forest fires in 2019, followed by Venezuela (26,453) and Bolivia (16,101).