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All your questions answered on Amazon fire

The Amazon spans eight countries, including Bolivia, though the majority of the forest is in Brazil. Often called "the planet's lungs," the Amazon forest produces about 20% of the world's oxygen.

TAS News Service
August 26, 2019

Brazil: Over the past few months, the Amazon rainforest has been ablaze, with fires raging through large swathes of land.

Flames and smoke billowing can also be seen from space, as photos have been captured and shared by the United States space agency Nasa.

As fires are a constant in the Amazon, it is not clear exactly when the burning began, though some reports have suggested that the intensity has increased since Thursday.

But it received global attention over the past week after the hashtag #PrayForAmazonas went viral on social media, prompting world leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as well as celebrities like Leonardo Dicaprio and Madonna to join in the chorus.

So what exactly has been happening and why should the issue be of concern?

Is it humans?

While some fires are to be expected during the dry season of July and August, it is still rare for natural fires to start at the Amazon rainforest due to its natural moisture and humidity.

Hence, environmentalists and researchers are saying that the fires are largely caused by human activities: Farmers and cattle ranchers clearing the land for agricultural purposes.

Mr Paulo Moutinho, co-founder of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, told the New York Times that the dry season this year is not drier than usual.

The situation could have been even more dire if the Amazon had worse droughts like in the past four years.

Is it bad?

Really bad, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (Inpe).

Inpe said earlier this week that its satellite data recorded over 76,000 wildfires this year all over Brazil, an 84 per cent increase in the number of wildfires compared to the same period in 2018.

The number of wildfires recorded is the highest since the agency started keeping records in 2013.

Over 40,000 of the fires are in the Amazon region.

As an agency that tracks suspected deforestation and then sends out alerts to flag areas that may have been cleared, Inpe said the number of alerts sent out in July this year is 278 per cent higher than in July last year.

Over 10,000 alerts were sent out in July alone.

The agency said that deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated this year.

Preliminary figures from Inpe show that about 9,250 sq km of forest — 13 times the size of Singapore — have been lost over the first seven months of 2019, outstripping the full-year figure of 2018, which is about 7,500 sq km.

What for others?

The reason the rainforest is often referred to as the “lungs of the earth” is because of its ability to produce oxygen into the Earth’s atmosphere and absorb carbon dioxide, a gas that contributes to global warming.

Hence, the billions of trees in the Amazon rainforest have played a role in slowing down global warming.

It is the world’s largest rainforest. Spanning an area of 7 million sq km.

It is also said to take in as much as 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year.

With more trees lost due to burning, it would mean a higher amount of carbon dioxide would remain in the Earth’s atmosphere and contribute to global warming, higher temperatures and, eventually, rising sea levels.

What is Brazin doing?

Brazillian’s President Jair Bolsonaro has been under fire from critics, who blamed his pro-business policies for emboldening farmers to burn the forests.

Conservationists said he encouraged farmers to clear the land, while scientists said deforestation has accelerated ever since he took office in January this year.

Bolsonaro initially dismissed concerns from critics, saying it was a result of the dry season.

Reports have also said that he has implied that non-governmental organisations, which have been critical of his policies, were responsible for setting the fires.

But Bolsonaro said recently that the military will be mobilised to contain the fires.

This comes after world leaders expressed outrage, with France and Ireland saying that they will not ratify a trade deal with South American nations if Brazil does not do more to fight the fires in the Amazon.

Will super tanker help?

Bolivia just got a huge helping hand in the fight to keep raging fires in the Amazon rainforest at bay.

Colorado-based Global SuperTanker sent its Boeing 747-400 firefighting plane to the South American country Friday to conduct firefighting missions over part of Bolivia’s portion of the rainforest, the company announced.

The B747-400 SuperTanker is in the category of Very Large Airtankers (VLAT) used for fighting fires. It is capable of dropping around 19,000 gallons of retardant per trip, according to the company’s website.

Bolivian President Evo Morales tweeted earlier this week that he ordered the hiring of a Boeing 747 SuperTanker to help the firefighting effort in the Chiquitania region.

Dan Reese, president of Global SuperTanker, traveled to South America as part of a 14-person team to battle the fires in Bolivia. He told CNN there are “an unbelievable number of fires” in the Amazon and his company is part of the response.

The company said Saturday it had completed three sorties and was preparing for a fourth.

Morales tweeted video of the SuperTanker during its mission.

“The Supertanker and our helicopters work to put out the fire,” he wrote. “I appreciate the efforts of so many compatriots, men and women, who work on this hard task. We face this battle against fire together.”

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