Brazil on fire: The Amazon and its guardians are under constant threat
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Brazil on fire: The Amazon and its guardians are under constant threat

Due to multiple menaces, from El Niño to illegal loggers, vast parts of the Amazon are burning.

Those who depend on the rainforest for their survival and way of life are fighting valiantly to protect it, but there are others who wish to destroy it for short-term profit — and they are willing to kill anyone who stands in their way.

According to Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE), satellite images as of October 4 showed at least 906 active fires in Brazil’s central Amazons region — 59 percent of all active fires in the country. In the state of Amazonas alone, 11,114 fires have been recorded so far this year, a 47 percent increase on one year ago. (source: teleSUR)

See up-to-date imagery of fires on the INPE website.

Brazil and Southeast Asia: A tale of two disasters

The situation in the Brazilian Amazon somewhat mirrors what is currently afoot across the world in Indonesia, where land-clearing forest fires are causing an environmental and human health crisis. In the capital of Amazonas, Manaus, smog from the fires is prompting the same concern for those with respiratory illnesses as in several Southeast Asian cities.

The crises in both hemispheres are associated with climate change — as a cause, in terms of deforestation and emissions — and as a result, due to drought conditions that have exacerbated the fires and made them difficult to put out.

Indigenous tribes and firefighters at risk

One massive group of fires, believed to be started by illegal loggers, recently devastated the last remaining portion of Amazon rainforest in Maranhão state, forcing the local government to declare a state of emergency. The fires destroyed around half of the Arariboia Indigenous Territory, home to some 12,000 members of the indigenous Guajajara people and around 80 members of the isolated Awa-Guaja tribe.

In addition to the elimination of fire, the main concern is to ensure the survival of these people. Many areas were destroyed which means hunting will be more difficult, so the Indians will have serious difficulties to get food. Once the fire is controlled, it will be necessary for the government to closely monitor the situation —Danicley de Aguiar, Greenpeace

The efforts of firefighters, soldiers and members of indigenous communities, together with heavy rains that came towards the end of October, have managed to quench most of the blazes and get the remainder under control. Yet not before firefighting teams were targeted by loggers, including the shooting of an indigenous Ibama ranger.

Illegal loggers target Guardians of the Forest

Indigenous Amazonian groups are no strangers to attacks by illegal loggers, whether with guns or forest fires. Brazil is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an environmental activist. Some groups have even formed armed militias, called “Guardians” to defend the rainforest against the loggers.

From the Washington Post:

Indigenous groups play an important role in preserving Brazil’s Amazon rain forest; their reserves make up roughly one-fifth of its area. Silvio da Silva, a village chief from Arariboia and an employee of the Brazilian government’s indigenous agency, said that a year ago as many as 130 logging trucks left the southern end of this reserve a day. Thanks to the Guardians, that has fallen to around 10 to 15 trucks a day.

Rubber tappers, who practice a sustainable form of agriculture in the Amazon, also risk death by criminal logging gangs for defending their livelihood. Loggers in the western state of Rodonia, south of Amazonas, seek out valuable hardwoods and decimating the forests biodiversity in the process.

Listen to the rubber tappers’ story here:

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