The Amazon Basin, which covers 7.4 million square kilometers, represents almost 40% of Latin America including 9 countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. The Amazon is the largest tropical forest in the world, with an area of 5.5 million square kilometers. The Amazon jungle, of which 2.1 million square kilometers are protected areas, is home to a unique biodiversity sanctuary. A quarter of the Earth’s species are found there, plants, fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. The Amazon contains one third of the world’s primary forests and, through the Amazon River and its tributaries, provides 20% of the Earth’s unfrozen fresh water. The Amazon is the world’s largest river.

Considering all the gifts that the Amazon gives us, we have left it alone for too long without worrying about the increase in deforestation and forest fires.

Positive correlation between deforestation and fire?

The main four factors that have caused the fire in the Amazon are the current regulations, indiscriminate and uncontrolled deforestation (chaqueos), the use of local vegetation as fuel and adverse climatic conditions. Among these factors, the most relevant are indiscriminate and uncontrolled deforestation and violation of regulation which are affecting forests, natural ecosystems, protected areas, indigenous territories and farmers communities.

The process of deforestation works as follows: farmers in the Amazon forest clear spaces to raise cattle and grow soybeans. They use fire as a tool to clear the areas. Those who want to clear a forest space first remove the trees, leave it for a few months so that it can dry, and then set it on fire. Drying is necessary because the vegetation is wet and it takes a couple of months to dry out before setting it on fire. This practice is applied every year during the months of July and August, mainly in Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay.

In addition, the Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles posted on Twitter that « dry weather, wind and heat caused fires to increase throughout most of the country”. While one could agree with the Minister, it should be reminder that as the national authority, not only he, but also the other Bolivian and Paraguayan authorities should strictly follow environmental regulations and generate policies to protect the environment, which also includes the Amazon, instead of blaming it on climate conditions.

Unrecoverable losses

At least 10 percent of the planet’s animal species are found in the Amazon, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). According to Roberto Maldonado, WWF’s, countless birds, mammals and insects are now endangered by fire. Apart from the current threat, animals will have to face long-term habitat destruction. It is not yet known exactly how many species are in danger of going extinct.

The problem is that there are many animals in the Amazon that live in a very small habitat, and these animals have adapted to live only in specific types of plants. If these plants are burned, the animals will become homeless. They can’t walk to « the next house, » because very specialized animals already live there. The consequence would be the extinction of these species. Animals in the Amazon are not used to fires like the current ones. In a region where there are normally no fires, plants and animals do not have a strategy to adapt, thus the animal habitat is destroyed forever. In other words, they cannot return or live anywhere else.

Below is data on the plant and animal life of the Amazon according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWFN):

The Amazon is home to more than 40,000 plant species. It is also home to 40% of the world’s remaining rainforest, 25% of its terrestrial biodiversity and more fish species than any other river system. Many of the plants that live in tropical forests like the Amazon are used to make medicines, including cancer drugs as well as beauty products.

There are more than 6,000 animal species. To date, 427 species of mammals, 1,300 species of birds, 378 species of reptiles, more than 400 species of amphibians and around 3,000 species of freshwater fish have been discovered, including the recently discovered famous « vegetarian piranha ». Thousands of invertebrate species also live there. Experts believe that there are many species that inhabit the depths of the Amazon and are still unknown to science. If they are extinguished by fires, they will never be discovered.

Nearly one million indigenous people live in the Amazon divided into nearly 400 villages. Each people has its own culture and territory, and speaks its own language. These communities depend on the Amazon forests for their food, medicine, clothing, and others, according to Survival International, a non-governmental organization that advocates for indigenous rights.

Thousands of years to recover the Amazon forest

Because of the fire in the Amazon, many species have lost their habitat forever. To recover the destruction of the jungle, it would take more than 200 years. Rebuilding the forest would take even longer, approximately hundreds or thousands of years. Each minute is precious to save the Amazon, because one minute of not acting represents one year or even more of loss. Nonetheless, the world authorities are exchanging words instead of actions. Some were praised for putting Amazonian forest fires at the top of the global agenda, but they would receive more praise if they acted immediately instead of delaying solutions.

Wilma Ticona Huanca