The largest rainforest in the world, Amazon, is on fire, it has been for the past three and a half weeks. It only started to make news after it caused a blackout in the city of Sao Paulo in the middle of the afternoon. Here’s what has been happening so far:
Why are rainforests called rainforests?
The answer is in the name itself. It rains a lot; even more than 80 inches a year. To make a better understanding of the measurement- the highest rainfall in a year recorded in Bangladesh is 78.74 inches and it happened once.
The trees in a rainforest are so plump and full of water, that even during the dry seasons they never completely dry out, not even the dead leaves. The air is intently humid, the forest produces so much vapour that it causes its own rain. Most of the time, the rain goes on throughout the year and in those forests where the rain is seasonal, the gap between seasons is not very long too.
The Amazon forest
The Amazon has all these qualities. As an added bonus, the Amazon Basin, the largest natural basin consisting of 5 rivers, flows throughout the forest and works as the draining system for the entire forest.
In conclusion, it has all the necessary mechanism at place to prevent a large scale fire. Even during the dry spells, the wildfire does not have the capacity to burn more than some twigs and dried leaves.
How did the fire start? Was it deliberate?
While the increasing amount of drought can be a factor in rainforest fires, Brazil’s INPE (National Institute for Space Research) researchers have said there is nothing abnormal about the climate or rainfall amounts in the Amazon this year.
“The dry season creates the favourable conditions for the use and spread of fire, but starting a fire is the work of humans, either deliberately or by accident”INPE research Alberto Setzer told Reuters.
Agribusiness is Brazil’s main source of income and the Amazon has been a cash cow for quite some time now. It’s only made worse by Brazil’s far-right president Bolsonaro who is an active supporter of deforestation for farming and agribusiness.
He promised his voters lands and access, he promised he would open up the Amazon for mining and farming, he promised not another centimetre of indigenous land would be protected under his leadership.
The largest chunk of indigenous tribes of Brazil lives in the Amazon- which makes the Amazon the indigenous land Bolsonaro is not keen on protecting.
”It’s a combination of natural phenomena with locals feeling comfortable enough to do it because the government has not made any effort to prevent it”Brazilian journalist Boccanera says in an interview with BBC.
The guardians of the forest
Almost all of the 400 Amazonian tribes take the protection of the forest very seriously. The Guajajara tribe has formed an army of locals who are called “The Guardian of the Forest”- and they are patrolling the rivers and the borders 24/7 to make sure no illegal loggers or farmers can get in, and in doing so, they’ve paid a heavy price. In the past 45 years, 1400 members of the Guajajara tribe alone have been killed or assassinated. That did not stop them. But now with the government backing up the ranchers, loggers and the farmers, the effectiveness of them is in question.
Can we fight the fire? Is Amazon ruined forever?
Bolsonaro, amid national and international pressure, has deployed the army and other national resources at last to fight the fire. French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that the G7 will release funds for fire fighting planes. Israel has offered to help the Brazilian government to help stop the fire. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio also pledged $5M for the forest.
Burnt lungs can not sustain life and the Amazon has been the lungs of the Earth since time immemorial.
It has been producing almost 10% of the world’s oxygen and right now it’s producing smokes that are visible from the space.
Luckily, there’s still time to save the forest. Experts say that despite deliberate deforestation and natural forest fires, 80% of Amazon is still intact. And if allowed to regenerate, Amazon will heal itself in about 20-40 years.