Brazil sees surge in Amazon fires

More forest fires have been recorded in the Brazilian Amazon so far this year than in all of 2021, data from INPE space agency shows.


A fire burns in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil's Rondonia State on September 28, 2021 [File: Adriano Machado/Reuters]


Brazil’s sprawling Amazon region has seen more forest fires so far this year than in all of 2021, official figures show, as environmental and Indigenous rights groups continue to plead for more protection of the critical rainforest.


Satellite monitoring detected 75,592 fires from January 1 to September 18 this year, already higher than the 75,090 detected for all of last year, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said on Monday.


Greenpeace Brazil spokesman Andre Freitas called the latest figures a “tragedy foretold“.


“After four years of a clear and objective anti-environmental policy by the federal government, we are seeing that as this government’s term – one of the darkest periods ever for the Brazilian environment – comes to an end, land-grabbers and other illegal actors see it as the perfect opportunity to advance on the forest,” Freitas said in a statement.


Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is seeking re-election in deeply polarised elections set for next month, has faced international condemnation over the destruction of the Amazon.


The world’s largest rainforest has continually set new records for deforestation under the watch of Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain who has weakened environmental protections since he took office in 2019.


Since then, average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 75 percent compared to the previous decade.


Bolsonaro has rejected the criticism, insisting that Brazil “protects its forests much better than Europe”.


But Indigenous rights advocates in Brazil have denounced the Bolsonaro government for the wave of destruction, as well as for increased threats across the Amazon region.


A study from earlier this year showed that the demarcation of Indigenous territory in Brazil has acted as a barrier against deforestation over the past three decades – but rights groups say Bolsonaro’s administration has stalled the land protection process.


On Sunday, Indigenous groups rallied in Sao Paulo to protest against what they described as “a culture of impunity” that has led to dozens of deaths and illegal land grabs by miners, loggers and ranchers in the rainforest.


These land grabs have led to clashes between Indigenous tribes and the groups illegally invading protected land to exploit natural resources.


“We want to keep our people alive,” said Sonia Guajajara, an Indigenous leader and congressional candidate. “We want our people alive to keep fighting in defence of the environment, fighting in defence of the waters, fighting in defence of Mother Earth.”


The Indigenous Missionary Council, a group affiliated with the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, recorded 305 cases of “possessory invasions, illegal exploitation of resources and damage to property” on Indigenous territories last year.


That is up from 109 such incidents in 2018, the year before Bolsonaro took office – a 180 percent increase.


Meanwhile, as Brazilians prepare to cast their ballots on October 2, concerns are mounting that Bolsonaro could refuse to accept the election results.


For months, Bolsonaro has sought to sow distrust in Brazil’s electronic voting system, saying without evidence that it is vulnerable to fraud.


That claim has been slammed by legal experts and critics, who accuse Bolsonaro of pushing false electoral fraud claims in order to reject the results, similarly to former United States President Donald Trump, who the Brazilian president has emulated.


Most opinion polls have predicted that Bolsonaro will lose the election to his left-wing rival, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.