The Amazon fire

  • Category
    Environment
  • Published
    3rd Sep, 2019

Issue

Context

The Amazon rainforest has been on fire for the past month.

Background

  • The Amazon rainforest has been on fire for the past month, with Brazil declaring a state of emergency in the region.
  • The number of fires in Brazil this year is the highest on record since 2013 and is up by 85% from last year alone.
  • Fires like the current one lead to wholesale irreversible changes in the structure and composition of forest ecosystems, impoverishing both their biodiversity capital and capacity to generate critical forest ecosystem services, such as carbon retention and water cycling. They also severely degrade the livelihoods of local people who depend on these forests for a number of extractive assets.
  • These droughts are clearly becoming far more frequent and more severe and are generating the conditions conducive for either man-made or natural wildfires that affect vast areas of previously unburnt Amazonian rainforests, which represent half of the world’s remaining tropical forests and are home to 25 million people in Brazil alone.
  • Many are now witnessing the worst fires in living memory, following long periods of consecutive days without rain. Major fires have also caused severe losses, burning dozens of houses, shops, churches and schools to the ground.

Analysis

How did the Amazon fires start?

  • Amazonian forests and other tropical rainforest regions were completely immune to fires because of the high moisture content of the undergrowth beneath the protection of the canopy tree cover. But the severe droughts of 1997-98, 2005, 2010, and currently a large number of wildfires across northern Brazil have forever changed this perception.
  • These severe ‘mega-droughts’ in the Amazon were most likely driven by interacting large-scale climatic events, with the warming of the Atlantic increasingly outweighing the drying effects of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) events in the Pacific.
  • While the Amazon rainforest is typically wet and humid, July and August -- the onset of the dry season -- are the region's driest months, with "activity" peaking by early September and stopping by mid-November.
  • Fire is often used to clear out the land for farming or ranching. For that reason, the vast majority of the fires can be attributed to humans, cattle ranchers and loggers, who want to clear and utilize the land.
  • Deforestation is largely due to land clearing for agricultural purposes, particularly cattle ranching but also soybean production. Since farmers need a massive amount of land for grazing, Twelve percent of what was once Amazonian forest – about 93 million acres – is now farmland.
  • Ambitious infrastructure development plan that would turn the Amazon’s many waterways into electricity generators. The Brazilian government has long wanted to build a series of big new hydroelectric dams, including on the Tapajós River, the Amazon’s only remaining undammed river. But the indigenous Munduruku people, who live near the Tapajós River.
  • Roads, most of them dirt, already criss-cross the Amazon. The ill-designed road crossings – which feature perched culverts that disrupt water flow – also act as barriers to movement, preventing fish from finding places to feed, breed and take shelter.

What's the connection to climate change?

  • Forest fires and climate change operate in a vicious circle. As the number of fires increase, greenhouse gas emissions do too. This makes the planet's overall temperature rise, the organization said. As the temperature increases, extreme weather events like major droughts happen more often.
  • In addition to increasing emissions, deforestation contributes directly to a change in rainfall patterns in the affected region, extending the length of the dry season, further affecting forests, biodiversity, agriculture and human health.
  • NASA released an AIRS Map showing the carbon monoxide associated with the fires in Brazil. The map shows a carbon monoxide plume bloom in the northwest Amazon region, move south and east, and then toward San Paolo.
  • Fires release pollutants including particulate matter & toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and non-methane organic compounds into the atmosphere.

What areas are affected?

  • Satellite images showed fires in the Brazilian states of Amazonas, Rondonia, Para and Mato Grosso. The state of Amazonas is most affected.
  • Effects of damage to the Amazon go far beyond Brazil and its neighbors. The area's rainforest generates more than 20% of the world's oxygen and is home to 10% of the world's known biodiversity. The Amazon is referred to as the "lungs of the planet" and plays a major role in regulating the climate. The world would drastically change if the rainforest were to disappear, with impacts on everything from farms to drinking water.

How can forest Fire Prevention be done?

  • Check local regulations regarding permit requirements and "burn ban" restrictions. These are available from your municipality, fire department or department of natural resources. They may include:
    • Obtaining a burning permit for burning grass, brush, slash or other debris in or within a prescribed distance of forest land;
    • A campfire permit and the landowner's permission for an open campfire, cooking fire or bonfire in or near forest land;
    • A work permit for any work in forest land involving two or more people.
  • Burn only natural vegetation or untreated wood products.
  • Burn piles are at least 50 feet from structures and 500 feet from any forest slash.
  • Clear the area around the burn pile of any flammable debris.
  • Keep firefighting equipment handy - a connected water hose or at least five gallons of water and a shovel should be nearby.
  • Don't burn if it's too windy to burn - if trees are swaying, flags are extended, or waves appear on open water.
  • Be prepared to extinguish the fire if it becomes a nuisance.
  • Attend the fire until it is completely out.
  • Smoking should not be done while moving from one place to another in forest land. Make sure your butt is out - "dead out!"
  • Power saws must have a proper muffler and be accompanied by a round point shovel or fire extinguisher.
  • Cars, trucks and machinery must have proper exhaust systems when operated in or near forest land. Exhaust spark arresters are a requirement on certain machines.
  • Know your local emergency telephone number if a fire becomes uncontrollable.

Conclusion

This year's burning season across the Brazilian Amazon is yet another vivid reminder. The threats to the Amazon have never been louder and clearer, and Brazil should honor its national to global responsibility to ensure the effective protection of the world’s largest tropical forest. The predicament of the Amazon and other major tropical forest regions has never been so uncertain. The last thing we needed in these difficult times was a stupefying short-sighted presidential administration that is hostile to all things related to a sustainable environment.

Question: Discuss the various reasons which caused the Amazons fires along with the preventive measures to be taken.

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