Amazon Deforested Area to be Burned in 2020 May Exceed 4.5 Thousand km2

8 de June de 2020 | News

Jun 8, 2020 | News

A deforested area of at least 4,500 square kilometers in the Amazon is ready to burn. The result of the sum of what was felled in the first four months of last year—still not burned. This fallen vegetation on the ground can go up in smoke with the dry season that began in June in another season of intense fire like we observed in 2019. If this happens, the number of hospitalizations for respiratory problems can increase significantly, putting further pressure on the region’s healthcare system, which is already severely affected by COVID-19.

The alert was given this Monday (June 8) in a technical note released by the Institute for Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM). According to the scientists’ calculations, if the accelerated pace of deforestation continues in the coming months, almost 9,000 km2 may turn to ash, since the most intense season of felling and burning now begins, with the arrival of the dry period in the region.

“Curbing fires and deforestation this year is not only an environmental protection action but a health measure as well,” affirmed the lead author of the technical note, researcher Paulo Moutinho, from IPAM. The concern is based on data from last year, when the Amazon cities that burned the most saw air pollution climb an average of 53% more, compared to 2018. Moutinho also pondered that “if public authorities fail to prevent deforestation and fires, the loss of human lives could surpass those predicted for the pandemic. Precaution is the keyword now,” he concluded.

Typically, smoke-filled years send hundreds of people to health clinics and hospitals throughout the region. If this happens in 2020, they will find beds occupied by those infected with the coronavirus.

“During the fire season, large areas of the Amazon have worse air quality than downtown São Paulo because of the fires. This has a strong effect on health, especially in children and the elderly, who are the most vulnerable populations,” explained physicist Paulo Artaxo, a collaborator from the University of São Paulo. “As the pollution of the fires travels for thousands of kilometers, isolated communities of indigenous people breathe this unhealthy atmosphere, which far exceeds the World Health Organization’s air quality standards.”

A total of 88% of the deforested and unburned area is concentrated in four Brazilian states: Pará (with 42%), Mato Grosso (23%), Rondônia (13%), and Amazonas (10%).

When looking more carefully, eleven regions are of particular concern. The regions must be prioritized, and measures for command and control must be taken, especially those planned by the federal government, as well as for healthcare planning by state governments.

Fire is the next step in the process of converting forest for another land use, such as pasture, explains the director of Science at IPAM, Ane Alencar, who also signed the technical note. “Therefore, when we have a high rate of deforestation in the Amazon, it is directly related to the surge in hot spots. It was what we saw happening in 2019, and, unfortunately, if nothing is done, it is what we should see in 2020 since the felling continues at a high rate.”

Read the full technical note.

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