Headline : Explained: Why Amazon fires are worrying
- Over the last several days, the Amazon rainforest has been burning at a rate that has alarmed environmentalists and governments worldwide.
- Mostly caused by farmers clearing land, the fires have thrown the spotlight on Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro’s policies and anti-environment stance.
- NASA has released images showing the spread of fires and reported that its satellites had detected heightened fire activity in July and August.
Expanse of fire:
- The fire started in the Amazonian rainforests and have impacted populated areas in the north, such as the states of Rondônia and Acre.
- The Amazon fires are so large that they are visible from space.
- The fire has blocked sunlight and enveloped the region in smoke.
- As per the World Meteorological Organization, the smoke has travelled thousands of miles to the Atlantic coast and São Paulo.
Increasing incidence of forest fires in Amazon:
- Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has reported that forest fires in the region have doubled since 2013.
- This year the fires have increased by 84% compared to the same period last year.
- This year alone there have been 72,843 fires and more than 9,500 of those have happened over the past few days.
Causes of fires:
- President Bolsonaro, who took office in January 2019, had promised during his election campaign that his government would open up the Amazon region for business.
- His anti-environment stance has strengthened farmers, who organised a “fire day” along a highway that runs through the heart of the rainforest.
- Local farmers had set fire to sections of the rainforest to clear the pastures in order to work on them.
Significance of Amazon
Lungs of the Earth
- The Amazon rainforest is a repository of rich biodiversity and produces approximately 20 per cent of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.
- According to a study at the University of Leeds the carbon intake by the Amazon basin matches the emissions released by nations in the basin.
- The burning of forests, therefore, implies additional carbon emissions.
- Further deforestation could lead to Amazon’s transformation from the world’s largest rainforest to a savanna, which would reverse the region’s ecology.
- A National Geographic report stated that the Amazon rainforest influences the water cycle not only on a regional scale, but also on a global scale.
- The rain produced by the Amazon travels through the region and even reaches the Andes mountain range.
- Moisture from the Atlantic falls on the rainforest and eventually evaporates back into the atmosphere.
- It has the ability to produce at least half of the rain it receives. This cycle is a delicate balance.
- It is home to many indigenous communities whose lives and homelands are under threat due to encroachment.
- The Amazon has large reserves of gold and other minerals.
- Since the 1960s, the Amazon has witnessed large-scale deforestation because of cattle-ranching, logging, power projects, mining and farming.
- Agribusiness products in 2016 represented 46% of Brazil’s exports.