Massive wildfires hit southern Brazil's Pantanal wetlands

Local authorities warn blazes are ‘bigger than anything seen before’ with tens of thousands of hectares affected.

    Wildfires are raging across Brazil’s tropical Pantanal wetlands, one of the most biodiverse areas in the world and a major tourist destination.

    The governor’s office in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul said on Thursday the fires were “bigger than anything seen before” in the region.

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    More than 50,000 hectares (nearly 125,000 acres) have been affected since the blazes erupted on October 25.

    The statement from the governor’s office described the situation as “critical”.

    Paulo Barbosa de Souza, coordinator of the National Risk Management Center, meanwhile said the blazes – fed by wind and dry vegetation – were causing “logistical difficulties.”

    Satellite images from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) showed there were nearly 8,500 fires in the Pantanal area between January and October this year. That was the worst record since 2007.

    Amazon fires

    The developments in the Pantanal come after separate blazes ravaged Brazil’s Cerrado region and Amazon rainforest earlier this year.

    The news of the Amazon fires – which surged to their highest level since 2010 in August – prompted global outcry and accusations Brazil was not doing enough to protect the world’s largest tropical rainforest, an enormous carbon sink and a critical bulwark against climate change.

    Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, in particular, came under intense scrutiny for his controversial stewardship of Brazil‘s majority share of the ecosystem, which covers more than five million square kilometres (1.93 million square miles) across nine countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

    Critics have said Bolsonaro’s push to open up the Amazon region for more commercial activity – particularly farming – and weakening of  Brazil’s environmental agency, IBAMA, has contributed to creating a climate of impunity for those felling and burning the forest illegally.

    Despite successful efforts in recent years by previous Brazilian governments to curb deforestation, nearly 20 percent of the rainforest has disappeared in the last half-century alone.

    Scientists have warned that if tree loss in the Amazon were to pass a certain “tipping point”, somewhere between 25 and 40 percent, deforestation could start to feed on itself and lead to the demise of the forest within a matter of decades.


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