Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has sent Brazil’s army to try to help bring forest fires in the Amazon rainforest under control. The move comes after weeks of inaction which brought criticism from around the world.
The Amazon rainforest in Brazil is suffering from a huge jump in the number of fires. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) says there have been 40,341 forest fires in Brazil’s part of the Amazon this year. That’s the highest level since 2010, and about 35% higher than average.
There are so many fires, and they are so large that they can be seen from space. The smoke from the fires even darkened daytime skies far away in São Paulo.
The Amazon rainforest covers around 2.1 million square miles (5.5 million square kilometers) of land in South America. About 60% of the rainforest is in Brazil. The Amazon is sometimes called the “lungs of the planet”, and it’s very important in the fight against the climate crisis. That’s because trees, like most plants, use carbon dioxide as food, giving off oxygen.
Because trees remove human-made pollution (carbon dioxide), fires like those in the Amazon hurt twice: the smoke from the fires pollutes, releasing dangerous gases, and after the fires, there are far fewer trees left to clean the air.
The Amazon rainforest covers several countries, but the number of fires hasn’t increased everywhere. NASA says the number of fires this year is average for the whole rainforest.
There are usually more forest fires at this time of year, even in Amazon’s wet rainforest, because it’s the dry season. But almost half of Brazil’s fires have been started in the last month. In the last week alone, over 1,200 new fires have started burning.
Experts believe most of the fires were started by humans. Though some may have started by accident, most are likely the result of farmers and other businesses trying to clear land. Not all the fires are burning down rainforest. Some are just clearing old crops in fields that already exist.
Many people blame the increased burning on Mr. Bolsonaro, who wants to use more of the rainforest for farming and mining. People believe Mr. Bolsonaro has made it clear that people who break rules in the Amazon won’t be punished.
Mr. Bolsonaro claims the fires were set by environmental groups trying to embarrass his government. He hasn’t offered any proof.
The fires have brought concern and criticism from around the globe. They were an important topic at this weekend’s Group of Seven (G7) meeting in France. Some European leaders wanted to cancel an important business deal with Brazil to punish the country for not taking care of the Amazon.
After weeks of ignoring the problems, Mr. Bolsonaro has responded to the international criticism and has now ordered Brazil’s army to fight the fires. On Saturday, around 44,000 members of the army were sent to the Amazon to fight fires.
Mr. Bolsonaro now says, “Whatever is within our power, we will do.” Many other countries have promised to help.
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