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Amazon fires: Brazil sends army to help tackle blazes

Media captionWorldwide protests on Friday over Brazilian government inaction on Amazon fires

Brazil’s president has ordered the armed forces to help fight a record number of forest fires in the Amazon.

A decree issued by President Jair Bolsonaro authorises the deployment of soldiers in nature reserves, indigenous lands and border areas in the region.

The announcement comes after intense pressure from European leaders.

France and Ireland say they will not ratify a huge trade deal with South American nations unless Brazil does more to tackle blazes in the Amazon.

Finland’s finance minister has also called on the EU to consider banning Brazilian beef imports.

Finland is currently president of the Council of the EU – a role which is rotated among member states every six months.

Environmental groups called for protests in cities across Brazil on Friday to demand action to combat the fires.

Hundreds of protesters also gathered outside the Brazilian embassies around the world, including in London, Berlin, Mumbai and Paris.

Image copyright
Reuters

“We can’t stand around waiting for the sky to turn black all the way here in London too,” protester Laura Villares House, 33, told BBC Brasil.

What does the decree say?

The decree is fairly vague in its wording, but specifies that the military will be deployed to nature reserves, indigenous lands and border areas in the region.

The deployment of soldiers will be left down to regional governors who can request “preventive action … against environmental crimes” and ask the army to “survey and combat fire outbreaks”.

Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo e Silva is to oversee the order and will be responsible for allocating resources, it states.

The order is initially authorises action for a month, from 24 August to 24 September.

What has Bolsonaro said about the fires?

Mr Bolsonaro has said his government lacks the resources to fight the record number of fires in the region.

But conservationists have blamed his government for the Amazon’s plight.

They say Mr Bolsonaro has encouraged the clearing of land by loggers and farmers, thereby speeding up the deforestation of the rainforest.

The president has hit back at criticism, even suggesting that non-governmental organisations had started fires in the rainforest, despite admitting he had no evidence for this claim.

Media captionPresident Bolsonaro accuses NGOs of starting Amazon wildfires

Asked on Thursday who was responsible for starting the fires, he responded: “The Indians, do you want me to blame the Indians? Do you want me to blame the Martians?… Everyone is a suspect, but the biggest suspects are NGOs.”

What have European leaders said?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson have called the fires an international crisis.

Ms Merkel called it an “acute emergency” and Mr Macron tweeted: “Our house is burning.” Both said the issue must be discussed at this weekend’s G7 summit.

But the Brazilian president accused Mr Macron of meddling for “political gain”.

Mr Johnson said the UK would “stand ready to provide whatever help we can”, calling the Amazon “one of Earth’s greatest wonders”.

France and Ireland have said they will not ratify a huge trade deal with South American nations unless Brazil does more to fight the fires.

Finland’s Finance Minister Mika Lintila said the EU should consider banning Brazilian beef imports due to the crisis.

And what about the US?

President Donald Trump said that he spoke to President Bolsonaro on Friday evening.

“I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!” Mr Trump tweeted.

Why does the Amazon matter?

The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming.

It is known as the “lungs of the world” and is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.

Media captionOne campaigner called the forest fires a “vicious cycle”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted on Thursday: “In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected.”

How bad are the fires and who is responsible for them?

Satellite data published by the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) has shown an increase of 85% this year in fires across Brazil, most of them in the Amazon region.

Mr Bolsonaro has brushed off the latest data, arguing that it was the season of the “queimada”, when farmers burn land to clear it before planting.

However, Inpe has noted that the number of fires is not in line with those normally reported during the dry season.

Wildfires often occur in the dry season in Brazil but they are also deliberately started in efforts to illegally deforest land for cattle ranching.

Conservationists say Mr Bolsonaro has encouraged loggers and farmers to clear the land.

During his campaign, he pledged to limit fines for damaging the rainforest and to weaken the influence of the environmental agency.

Mr Bolsonaro has suggested that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) started the fires, but admitted he had no evidence for this claim. In comments on Thursday, he acknowledged that farmers might be involved in setting fires in the region, according to Reuters news agency.

US space agency Nasa, meanwhile, has said that overall fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average compared to the past 15 years.

Amazon fires: Brazil sends army to help tackle blazes

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