This text, written by Izabel Santos e Bruna Melo, was originally published on the Amazônia Real website. It is reproduced under a content sharing agreement with Global Voices.
In 2019, the highest deforestation rates of the last decade were recorded in the Amazon. But 2020 may be worse. A study by Brazil's Amazon Environmental Research Institute (Ipam) indicates that there are at least 4,500 square kilometers of deforested area that could be burned this year. Four Brazilian states concentrate 88% of that area: Pará (42%), Mato Grosso (23%), Rondonia (13%) and Amazonas (10%). The study says:
It was possible to turn fumaça, the region could face a state of public calamity in health due to the overload of those who died of the Covid-19 pandemic, or that it would overload even more people with the collapse of our collapse and we would attend to people.
If everything goes up in smoke, the region may face a state of public health calamity due to the overlap of burns with the COVID-19 pandemic, which will further overload the health network, already collapsed in attention to the population.
According to researcher Paulo Moutinho, doctor of ecology and member of Ipam, and also one of the authors of the study, fire prevention, deforestation has become and the action of environmental protection have become health measures. The concern reflects data from 2019, when the municipalities that burned the most in the Amazon saw that the air was polluted by 53% more, on average, compared to 2018.
Moutinho stresses that if the authorities do not do something about it, there could be human losses, in addition to those anticipated by the pandemic, and that caution is the key word. Physicist Paulo Artaxo, another researcher from the University of São Paulo (USP), who collaborated with the work, explains:
During the fire season, large areas of Amazônia have the highest quality, not the center of the city of São Paulo, because they have been burned. Isso tem forte effeito na saúde, especially in children and children, who are the most popular people. (…) As it travels to poluição das queimadas by thousands of kilometers, isolated communities of Indians breathe this unhealthy atmosphere, which recently met two parents of the quality of the World Health Organization.
During the fire season, large areas of the Amazon have lower air quality than the São Paulo city center due to burning. This has a strong effect on health, especially in children and the elderly, the most vulnerable populations. (…) As the pollution from the burns travels for thousands of kilometers, isolated communities of Indians breathe this unhealthy atmosphere, well above the air quality parameters of the World Health Organization.
The Ipam study, published on June 8, indicates that about 45% of the deforested area in 2019 has not yet been burned – the geographical area is three times the size of the city of São Paulo.
For the director of Science of Ipam, Ane Alencar, who also participated in the technical note of the study, the environmental authorities must be firm in the fight against illegal deforestation and burning:
If this is not happening, we fear that there will be a great pressure, not a health system from the Amazon and the rise, the fall, or the collapse.
If that does not happen, we have options to put very great pressure on the Amazon health system and lead it to collapse.
On April 22, in a ministerial meeting with President Jair Bolsonaro, the Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, affirmed that it is necessary to take advantage of the fact that the press is dedicated to the pandemic in order to “go unnoticed” – according to him, that means de-bureaucratizing the system of norms and rules of environmental issues.
According to the scientists' calculations, if the accelerated rate of deforestation continues in the coming months, almost 9000 square kilometers may turn to ashes, since the most intense slash-and-burn season occurs between June and August, with the arrival of the period of drought. The document points out that if half of that area is burned, the scenario will be worse than in 2019.
Burns Increase 35% in Acre
In 2020, the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), a reference institution for satellite supervision in Brazil, detected that the number of outbreaks of burns in the state of Acre already exceeded 35% in 2019. According to Inpe, between 1 From January to June 14 of this year, there were 84 outbreaks of burning in the state. In that same period of 2019, 62 outbreaks were detected. In all of 2019, Inpe detected 6,802 outbreaks of burning in local forests.
The outbreaks recorded in urban areas by the Fire Department in Acre were 6,867 in 2019. Thus, the total number of outbreaks of burning in the state went from 13,000 in 2019 (urban and rural areas).
Fire spokesman Major Cláudio Falcão said that in Rio Branco, the state capital alone, 999 environmental fires were registered until June 7. In that same period last year, the number was 544. Across the state of Acre, 1,086 urban burns have already been counted:
I don't know how difficult it is or control the burns or the pandemic. Every year we go through difficulties, but the population continues to burn.
Unfortunately, we have registered an increase in queimadas. It is the face of the health system that is overloaded even more because respiratory actions appear to appear. We are going to have a very serious problem.
It is necessary to raise awareness and intensify two inspection bodies so that we can reduce this situation
I don't know which is more difficult to control: the burning or the pandemic. Every year we go through difficulties, but the population continues to burn.
Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in burning. This causes the health system to become more overloaded because respiratory illnesses begin to appear. We are going to have a very serious problem.
It is necessary for the population to be aware and for the inspection bodies to be intensified in order to reduce this situation.
According to the Geoprocessing Laboratory Applied to the Environment of the Federal University of Acre (Ufac), in 2019 more than 175,000 hectares were burned. The municipalities that burned the most were Sena Madureira, Rio Branco, Feijó, Tarauacá and Brasiléia. At least 1,700 hectares were affected by burning in the Upper Acre region. An important part of the forest fires occurred in the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve and on indigenous lands.
The destructive logic of queas
In the story of forest destruction in the Amazon, after deforestation comes a burning, explains researcher Ane Alencar. Thus, whenever the deforestation rate increases in the Amazon, there is a direct relationship with the increase in heat sources:
Nobody is going to spend money to destroy several hectares of forest to use this area, except for speculation. That area will be burned.
Because of what we saw happening in 2019 and, unfortunately, nothing forfeito, is what we should see in 2020, since a high rate continues to collapse.
No one is going to spend money on felling several hectares of forest and then not using that area, even if it is for speculation. That area is going to be burned.
It was what we saw happened in 2019 and, unfortunately, nothing was done, it should be seen in 2020, as logging continues at a high rate.
Burns increase the amount of smoke in the air, transporting fine particulate matter, known as aerosols. In the areas most affected by polluting clouds, there is an increase in patients seeking medical attention with respiratory illnesses. Since March, the public health system has already been overloaded with COVID-19 cases and three states in the Amazon have the highest number of cases in Brazil.
According to Ipam, until the end of May 2020, 20% of deaths from the new coronavirus occurred in the northern region, which also had the highest incidence and mortality rate per 100,000 inhabitants. As of June 25, the country had 54,971 deaths and 1,228,114 registered cases. The institute note says:
No Amazonas, no Pará in Mato Grosso, more than 20% of the heavy moram in areas that require a displacement of at least four hours to return to the nearest municipality with conditions of care in serious cases of Covid-19. As small and medium-sized, they are simultaneously affected by burned cigarettes and infections of the novo coronavirus, in order not to be able to absorb the needs of the population.
In Amazonas, Pará and Mato Grosso, more than 20% of people live in areas that require a displacement of up to four hours to reach the nearest municipality with the capacity to attend serious cases of COVID-19. Small and medium-sized cities, simultaneously affected by the smoke from the burning and the spread of the new coronavirus, tend to fail to meet the needs of the population.
Most critical areas
As the study points out, until then the areas were logged, but there were no burns. That makes integrated action by the federal and state governments essential, says Paulo Moutinho. Especially in the states of Acre, Pará and Amazonas, which have critical areas.
No Pará, there is a “fire arch that connects the Altamira region and San Félix do Xingu,” says Ipam. The study targets critical regions, the stretch along the Transamazônica highway (BR-230), from Altamira to Rurópolis.
In Acre, the municipalities around Rio Branco and along the BR-364 highway are the most threatened by forest fires and fires. And in Amazonas, the municipalities located in the south of the state, where there is a strong pressure from agriculture and logging.
Cities of Roraima, Mato Grosso and the capital of Rondônia, Porto Velho, are also threatened by burning.
Deforestation increase in 2019
On June 9, the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) released a 34.4% increase in the devastation of the Amazon rainforest between August 2018 and July 2019 compared to the same period in 2017 and 2018. They were deforested 10,129 square kilometers – the largest since 2008, which was 12,911 square kilometers.