The number of wildfires in the Brazilian Amazon this year has already surpassed those for all of 2021, according to official figures released Monday, sparking a new alert for the world’s largest rainforest.
From January 1 to September 18, satellite monitoring has detected 75,592 fires, up from the 75,090 detected all of last year, according to the Brazilian space agency INPE.
The latest grim news from the rainforest is likely to increase the pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for re-election next month and faces international criticism for a spate of destruction in the Amazon under his supervision.
Since the far-right agribusiness ally took office in January 2019, average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 75 percent over the previous decade, destroying an area nearly the size of Puerto Rico over the past year.
Experts say fires in the Amazon are mostly caused by illegal farmers, ranchers and speculators clearing land and burning trees.
Despite the ongoing destruction, the Bolsonaro government has slashed environmental protection budgets and pushed for opening protected Amazon areas to mining.
Greenpeace Brazil spokesman Andre Freitas called the latest figures a “predicted tragedy”.
“After four years of a clear and objective anti-environmental policy by the federal government, we see that as we near the end of this government’s term in office – one of the darkest times ever for the Brazilian environment – land grabbers and other illegal actors see it as a perfect opportunity to advance into the forest,” he said in a statement.
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This has been a worrying year for the Amazon, a key buffer against global warming.
Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon last month was 1,661 square kilometers (641 sq mi), almost double the August 2021 level.
And since the fire season got underway in earnest in August with the arrival of drier weather, the number of fires has skyrocketed.
According to the INPE, there were several days surpassing the so-called “Day of the Fire” on August 10, 2019, when farmers embarked on a coordinated plan to burn vast amounts of felled rainforest in northern Para State.
Fires then sent thick gray smoke to Sao Paulo, some 2,500 kilometers away, and sparked a global outcry over images of one of the earth’s most vital resources burning.
Bolsonaro vehemently rejects this criticism, insisting that Brazil “protects its forests much better than Europe” and deflecting international alarm with the line: “The Amazon belongs to the Brazilians and always will.”
The front runner who wants to unseat him in next month’s presidential election, leftist ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has vowed to do better to protect the Amazon.
Deforestation in Brazil’s 60 percent share of the Amazon Basin fell sharply under Lula, from almost 28,000 square kilometers in 2004 to 7,000 in 2010.
Still, he was criticized by environmentalists for his own track record, which notably included the controversial decision to build the massive Belo Monte Dam in the Amazon.
And the highest number of fires ever recorded in the Brazilian Amazon by INPE, whose records date back to 1998, was on his watch: 218,637 in 2004.