Swift action needed to douse Amazon fires - GulfToday

Swift action needed to douse Amazon fires

Amazon Fire

An aerial view of the burning Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

It is disappointing that instead of taking rapid action to end the crisis surrounding the fires in the precious Amazon rainforest, leaders are engaged in mudslinging.

The Amazon in South America is the largest, most diverse tropical rainforest on Earth and it is natural that the entire world is worried over the worst blazes in years raging there.

Images of fires purportedly devouring sections of the largest rainforest have gone viral on Twitter.

As per The Independent, in the last century one fifth of the Amazon, about 300,000 square miles, has been cut and burned in Brazil. Scientists have warned that losing another 1/5 of the Amazon will trigger the feedback, in which the Amazon will dieback, effectively killing the “lungs of the world” but also leading to the effective genocide of the indigenous peoples who call the region their home.

More than 1,600 new fires were ignited between Tuesday and Wednesday, taking this year’s total to almost 85,000 —  the highest number since 2010. Around half of them are in the vast Amazon basin.

While President Jair Bolsonaro has drawn criticism on the international stage from European leaders and environmental groups for his handling of wildfires, he and his supporters view this as foreign meddling.

Bolsonaro has accused France and Germany of “buying” Brazil’s sovereignty after the G7 offered $20 million in Amazon fire aid.

Vice President Hamilton Mourao, widely considered a moderate voice in Bolsonaro’s government, also weighed in publicly for the first time on Wednesday, insisting in an opinion piece that “our Amazon will continue to be Brazilian.”

However, the governors of several states in the Amazon told Bolsonaro in a meeting that international help was needed.

Their plea came after Norway and Germany halted around $70 million in Amazon protection subsidies earlier this month.

Bolsonaro had earlier described rainforest protection as an obstacle to Brazil’s economic development, sparring with critics who say the Amazon absorbs vast amounts of greenhouse gasses and is crucial for efforts to contain climate change.

He had indicated he wants to convert land for cattle pastures and soybean farms. Brazilian prosecutors are investigating whether lax enforcement of environmental regulations may have contributed to the surge in the number of fires.

US President Donald Trump, on expected lines, has sided with the Brazilian president and criticised the G7 for failing to consult Bolsonaro over its initiative.

On another front, the World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned that the fires raging in the Amazon pose a risk to health including from respiratory diseases, especially in children.

The rainforest, home to 30 million people, has a fragile ecosystem providing vital food and water that is threatened, says Dr Maria Neira, director of WHO’s public health, environment and social determinants of health department.

Those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma are at higher risk from the smoke.

While the decree issued by Bolsonaro imposing a 60-day ban on burning in Brazil is a step in the right direction, the authorities should see to it that the ban is strictly implemented.

There were already doubts over how Brazil would enforce the ban on burning in the remote region where deforestation surged this year as agencies tasked with monitoring illegal activities were weakened.

Strict enforcement of the ban and rapid action against the blaze are key steps that need to be initiated to protect the “lungs of the world.”

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