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The destruction of tropical rain forests in Brazil as a result of the corona virus

Crucial to people’s health and oxygen supply line through the world is the range of forests in South America called the Amazon rain forests. This all sounds very safe and cosy until you realise that their very well being, and ours in the process, is under threat from Brazil’s economic policy, from a lack of enforcement from the side of law and order and from vested interests from abroad.

In the Amazon rain forests, fewer law enforcement officers are heading off into the wild and monitoring missions are also cutting back, all of this leaves the door ajar for even more land invasions and clearance of the forests. Large swathes of the rainforest have no known owner at all, something which makes it easier to sieze hold of land on an illegal basis, and an absence of effective law enforcement can even mean that people who work the land who stick to the regulations find it hard to compete with those who are not.

The area’s native indigenous groups, making up the forest’s most important protectors, are choosing to go back into a form of isolation in order to avoid catching the corona virus and are now looking for food and stocks of medicine. In some parts of the region, they have reported an increase in invasions by miners, which has partly been encouraged by the increase in the price of gold since the start of the international crisis. On the first flight above the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau territory, locals to the area found out that 1.4 hectares of forest had been cleared without them being informed and they have recently noticed aeroplanes throwing grass seeds on the area in order that the land can be utilised for cattle grazing.Picture

It is not known if the present situation will lead to even further deforestation and fire but this will also be reliant on other factors. A global economic downturn springing from the corona virus could dampen demand for meat, timber, minerals, soy and other produce form the Amazon region, which might see pressure on the forest ease. On the other hand this will be counteracted by a likely recession in Brazil, which might lead to a drive for more empoverished people to clear land for subsistence cultivation.

Just last year, deforestation and fire reached their highest levels in over a decade, as a consequence of ultra-right wing president Jair Bolsonaro’s loosening of environmental protections, the tacit backing of loggers and miners, and criticism levelled at the native communities and conservation groups. As a result of the deforestation, civil groups and public prosecutors in Brazil are taking the government to court for their inability to protect the rainforest, heaping pressure on a president who is already in the firing line for not handling the coronavirus pandemic effectively. Legal challenges have hit the government on two points: scaling down inspections of exported timber and freezing environmental funds which help to preserve the same forests that other countries in the world also rely heavily on to offset their carbon emissions.

Amazon rain forests, picture credit One Green Planet

Deforestation, in the meantime, had in 2019 already reached its highest level in 12 years. The nation’s space research agency INPE reworked its calculations, stating they were higher than they had previously thought they were. Making use of satellite data, the scientists worked out that year-on-year the clearing of the trees in the Brazilian part of the Amazon had gone up by 34% between August 2018 and July of last year, getting rid of a part of the forest about the size of Jamaica.

Both the environmental and health crises in Brazil are closely connected. The Covid-19 pandemic has provided fresh impetus to land grabbers felling large parts of the forests while lockdowns have been keeping law enforcement officers in their homes. At present, the fires that normally come in the wake of the downing of trees could possibly put further pressure on the local health systems. Blazing wildfires, similar to the ones which have proven disastrous to the Amazon in the last year, spout pollutants which lead to a reduced air quality and find their way into people’s lungs, exacerbating one and the same breathing diseases that make people that bit more prone to catching the coronavirus. A collective outbreak of forest fires and virus cases could swamp medical facilities in the absence of meaningful intervention by the government to stop any illegal acts.

Outline map of the Amazon biome (white outline) and Amazon basin (light blue outline) Picture Credit Aymatth2

The Amazon rainforest as a whole, around 60% of which is situated in Brazil, is one of the planet’s great carbon sinks. By preserving its trees and plants and wildlife, the government can help meet its international targets in the fight to limit global warming and to keep these targets to a lot lower than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It can be done, with a lot of cooperation all round.

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