Taming wildfires of Amazon, others – Punch

Growing concerns about the debilitating effects of global warming are bound to be heightened by the current raging infernos across the Amazon Rainforest of South America and other parts of the world, which are driving up temperature levels and putting the future of humanity at risk. As of last week, reports quoting the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said as many as 87,000 forest fires had been recorded in Brazil, where 60 per cent of the Amazon is situated, in the first eight months of this year.

Compared to the 49,000 recorded within the same period last year, 2019 has emerged as the most active year for wildfires since 2010. Statistics however confirm that previous years had worse records of wildfire, although not as large, intense and as persistent as the current ones. For instance, in 2005, there were 142,000 wildfires in the first eight months of that year. The world must unite to check this trend in order to slow down and eventually reverse the effects of global warming and climate change.

The natural consequence of the burning forest has been the acceleration of deforestation in Brazil, where most of the wildfires have been reported, even though the phenomenon is not limited to that country. Countries such as Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru have also been hit by fires, traced to both natural and human causes. Typically, forest fires could be sparked by lightning, during the dry season; they are often said to be beneficial because they facilitate the regeneration of the forests. But worse are the ones triggered by humans for economic reasons.

Right now, data from Brazil satellite indicate that the Amazon is losing an equivalent of three football fields per minute to the raging fires. Across the Brazilian border in Bolivia, nearly a million hectares of farmland and forests have been lost to the blaze. The quest by agribusiness investors for land for crop cultivation and grazing of livestock has led to rapid deforestation of the Amazon, by far the largest tropical rainforest in the world.

It has been claimed that about 15 per cent of the Amazon has been destroyed and there could be some irreversible consequences if the destruction expands to an area up to 25 per cent of its primeval state. Such consequences include a transition from a rainforest to a savannah, which could be very debilitating to the ecosystem.

The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, has been upbraided for not taking concrete steps to discourage the burning because he is in support of the land-grabbing big corporations believed to be behind some of the fires. His alleged tacit support for them derives from his motive of aggressively expanding the economy. This is not surprising for a person that, during his election campaign last year, considered the Amazon as a natural resource that should be exploited for economic purposes.

After threatening to turn down a $20 million offer of assistance by the Group of Seven most industrialised countries to help fight the fire, perhaps the only thing he has done has been to place a 60-day ban on bush burning by farmers. Bolsonaro is also reported to have reduced the fine for logging. This is seen as part of the general lack of interest in controlling the incursion into the rainforest.

The situation in Brazil has obviously set off the alarm because of the strategic importance of the forest in balancing the ecosystem and the implication for the wider world. The Amazon has been described as the “lungs of the planet” because it produces a substantial amount of oxygen that is needed for the sustenance of life on earth. Its 390 billion trees also trap 86 billion tons of carbon, according to a report quoting a 2007 study in the Global Change Biology. The carbon is released into the atmosphere once a tree is logged down or the forest is burnt. This makes the Amazon Rainforest crucial in regulating global warming. To cap it all, it is also a home to a wide variety of wildlife and plants that have potential value for humans in medicine, food and many other things.

But while the Amazon wildfire is grabbing all the attention, The INDEPENDENT of London, on August 27, reported that more fires were burning in Central Africa than in South America. “Data from NASA Fire Information for Resource Management System showed at least 6,902 fires in Angola, and 3,395 burning in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” it said. The newspaper was reporting when the Brazil data stood at 2,127 fires. The fires in Africa have also extended to Mozambique and Madagascar.

Besides, wildfires have been reported in the Canary Islands, while more than 21,000 square miles of forest reportedly went up in flames in Siberia last month. It has also been reported that Denmark dispatched a team of fire-fighters to Greenland to combat fire. Just as the rainforest, an area that is associated with torrential rainfall, is battling with fire, Greenland and Siberia, two areas usually covered with snow, are also fighting fires.

Although boycotted by the United States President, Donald Trump, there was a session on the Amazon during the last G-7 meeting in France, where the French President, Emmanuel Macron, described the Amazon forest as “a subject of the whole planet,” promising to help in the reforestation process. “We can find the means for your economic development that respects the natural balance,” he said.

But whatever plans are available for the Amazon should also take into consideration the other burning parts of the world. Emphasis has to shift from the use of fire to clear bush for farming. When fires are started to clear the bush, they sometimes spread beyond the control of the person that started them. With average global temperature for July already put at 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the average for the 20th Century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it is obvious that the concern about global warming is not misplaced, as Trump would want the whole world to believe. The world needs to unite to mitigate its impact, and that starts with the preservation of the ecosystem.

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