Amazon fires: Finally, UNEP speaks on disaster consuming ‘earth’s lungs’

After over 73,000 fires and international outcry over Brazilian government’s response to the disaster, the United Nations has finally spoken on the Amazon rainforest fires, saying that the occurrence is a harsh reminder of the environmental crisis facing the world, adding that it is ready to support the country to respond to the crisis.

The Amazon is the largest rainforest in the world. The Amazon is often referred to as the planet’s lungs, because it produces 20 per cent of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. The Amazon rainforest is considered vital in slowing global warming, and is also home to countless species of fauna and flora.

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Over the weekend, Inger Andersen, UN under-secretary-general and executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said that “The ongoing fires in the Amazon rainforest are a harsh reminder of the environmental crises facing the world – of climate, of biodiversity and of pollution.

“We cannot afford more damage to this precious natural resource, which is home to 33 million people – including 420 indigenous communities -, 40,000 plant species, 3,000 freshwater fish species and more than 370 types of reptiles.

“The Amazon, alongside other major forests such as the Congo Basin and Indonesian rainforests, is a natural defence against global warming due to its ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

In the August 23 statement, Andersen added that, “Sustainably managing it will be a critical part of reversing the damage already done.

“Failure to halt the damage will have severe impacts on human health and livelihoods, decimating rich biodiversity and leaving the world more exposed to the climate crises and yet more disasters.

She said that UNEP “stands ready to work with member states – including Brazil – in responding to this present crisis and in support of their efforts to meet the ambitious targets of the Paris Agreement.”

Wildfires often occur in the dry season in Brazil, but this year has been worse than normal, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Apart from normal occurrences, they are also started deliberately to illegally deforest land for cattle ranching.

According to reports, INPE says there have been more than 73,000 fires across Brazil between January and August this year, and nearly 40,000 fires across the Amazon.

This marks an 83 per cent increase over the same period in 2018 and is the highest since records began in 2013.

The body says that because of the sheer number, it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict when exactly the current blaze started.

The Amazon fires have been so severe that emanating smoke last week Monday caused a blackout 2,700km away in the city of Sao Paulo, almost turning day into night.

Some conservationists and concerned parties have blamed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who came into office on January 1, for the significant increase of fires this year, saying he has encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land.

According to WWF, the Amazon rainforest has long been recognised as a repository of ecological services not only for local tribes and communities, but also for the rest of the world. “It is also the only rainforest that we have left in terms of size and diversity.”

Rainforest Foundation, Norway, states that the Amazon rainforest stretches across 5.5 million square kilometres – an area far larger than the European Union.

The Amazon River, with all its tributaries, contains 20 per cent of the world’s flowing freshwater.

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