AFP, published Sunday 04 September 2022 at 04:46
Flying over the river that winds through the heart of the Amazon rainforest, a black and white bird tries to get away from the dense cloud of smoke emanating from charred vegetation in a region of northern Brazil defined by environmentalists as “the new frontier of deforestation.
It is a forked-tailed kite (Elanoides forficatus), a bird of prey whose tail resembles that of a swallow.
The scene takes place in the state of Rondonia (north), one of the most affected by forest fires, in an Amazon that for 12 years had never burned so much in August, with 18% more homes than in the same period of ‘ Last year.
The most critical area is more precisely located at the intersection of three northern states, Amazonas, Acre and Rondonia, on part of their respective territories.
A region almost the size of Spain, known as Amacro, an acronym for these three border states, whose authorities last year launched a controversial “sustainable development zone” project, with the support of the federal government of the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.
According to the NGO Greenpeace, despite this name, it is above all a question of “stimulating agricultural production” in this region where about 1.8 million inhabitants live.
“This is the new frontier of deforestation”, insists Romulo Batista, spokesman for Greenpeace, with whom an AFP team flew over the region.
The area has “concentrated 40% of the fires identified since the beginning of the year in the Brazilian Amazon,” he stresses.
– “Red sun” –
In some places, the smoke is so thick that the pilot’s visibility is very poor. The smell of burning is almost unbearable.
In the areas already destroyed, a landscape of desolation as far as the eye can see, with entire stretches of black or dark gray background, instead of the thick emerald green vegetation.
And in those that are still burning, the flames distributed in the hearths a few tens of meters from each other act as fatal beacons in the middle of the cloud of smoke.
At night, seen from above, these fires look like small erupting volcanoes.
For the inhabitants of Porto Velho, the capital of the state of Rondonia, this month of August was particularly difficult.
“I have the impression that there has been three times the amount of smoking compared to last year. It is harmful, especially for children who have respiratory problems,” complains Francisco Alan Ferreira da Silva, a 33-year-old driver.
“It’s horrible, in the morning there is a huge fog, the sun is all red and it is very hot. And when you open the window, you can see particles of ash entering the room,” adds Joyce Milena, 24-year-old Administrative Assistant.
Deforestation and forest fires have seen a sharp rise under President Bolsonaro, who is calling for re-election in a month.
Since he came to power in January 2019, the average annual deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased by 75% compared to the previous decade.
He rejects criticism by arguing that Brazil “conserves its forests much better than Europe”, particularly with reference to the fires that ravaged France and Spain this summer.