Number of wildfires in Brazil last year at highest in a decade

RIO DE JANEIRO • The number of wildfires in Brazil rose 12.7 per cent last year to a decade-high, according to official data which is likely to increase the pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro's government over the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

There were 222,798 wildfires across Brazil in 2020, the highest number since 2010, according to the Brazilian space research agency Inpe.

That included over 103,000 fires in the Brazilian Amazon, an annual increase of nearly 16 per cent, said Inpe, which uses satellite images to track fires and deforestation.

It included over 22,000 fires in Brazil's share of the Pantanal, the world's largest wetlands.

The Amazon and Pantanal are two of Earth's most valuable ecosystems.

The Amazon, the world's biggest rainforest, is considered vital to curbing climate change because of the carbon dioxide it absorbs from the atmosphere.

About 60 per cent of the world's rainforest is in Brazil.

The Pantanal, further south, is a paradise of biodiversity that stretches from Brazil into Bolivia and Paraguay.

Nearly a quarter of the Brazilian Pantanal was devastated by fires last year, as the region experienced its worst drought in nearly half a century.

Images of charred landscapes strewn with animal carcasses shocked the world, drawing criticism of Mr Bolsonaro's government for failing to stop the area's destruction.

Mr Bolsonaro, a far-right climate change sceptic, also faces attacks over the sharp rise in Amazon deforestation on his watch.

Activists say his push to open protected Amazon lands to agribusiness and mining and his government's cuts in funding for environmental protection programmes are fuelling the destruction.

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon wiped out an area larger than Jamaica in the year to August, a 12-year high, according to the space agency's Prodes monitoring programme.

Experts say the fires in the Amazon are mostly set by people clearing land for farming and ranching.

The number of fires in the Brazilian Amazon had already risen by 48.7 per cent in 2019, Mr Bolsonaro's first year in office, triggering a global outcry.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2021, with the headline 'Number of wildfires in Brazil last year at highest in a decade'. Subscribe