Brazil: coronavirus fears weaken Amazon protection ahead of fire season

03 April 2020 | Mitigation


The coronavirus pandemic is weakening Brazilian state protection for the Amazon rainforest and its people ahead of this year’s fire season, according to indigenous communities and international organisations.

Fewer law enforcement officials are going out into the field and monitoring missions are being scaled back, opening the door for more land invasions and forest clearance, they warn.

Indigenous groups – who are the forest’s main defenders – are retreating into isolation to avoid the disease and appealing for food and medical supplies. In some areas, they report an uptick in invasions by miners, driven partly by the rise in the price of gold since the start of the global crisis.

This week, Brazil reported its first Covid-19 case in its indigenous population, but as the pandemic extends through the country, death threats and violence against indigenous peoples continue, most recently with the fifth killing of a Guajajara forest guardian in five months.

Last year deforestation and fire hit their highest levels in more than a decade, following ultra-right president Jair Bolsonaro’s weakening of environmental protections, encouragement of loggers and miners, and criticism of indigenous communities and conservation organisations.

The government’s main environmental protection agency, Ibama, has acknowledged that even fewer agents are going out into the field due to Covid-19 risks. After years of personnel cuts, a third of the staff are close to retirement age, which means they are considered more vulnerable to the disease. “There’s no way you can take these people who are at risk and expose them to the virus,” Olivaldi Azevedo, director of environmental protection, said.

The official said the Amazon would not be affected, but in the state of Rondônia they had already noticed a reduction in activity by Ibama and ICMBio (the state agency that maintains national parks) and a resurgent threat from land grabbers.

Government satellite alerts shows deforestation usually flattens out during the November to March rainy season and then picks up in April ahead of the June to October peak.

Whether the current situation leads to more deforestation and fire will also depend on other factors. A global economic downturn will probably suppress demand for meat, timber, minerals, soy and other Amazon produce, which could ease pressure on the forest.


Source: The Guardian