By Ajit Niranjan
Civil society groups and public prosecutors in Brazil are taking President Jair Bolsonaro's government to court for failing to protect the Amazon rainforest, adding pressure to an administration already under fire for mismanaging the coronavirus pandemic.
Coronavirus and Deforestation<p>Brazil's environmental and health crises are closely linked. The coronavirus pandemic had given fresh impetus to land grabbers razing swathes of forests as lockdowns have kept law enforcement officers at home.</p><p>Now, the fires that typically follow the felling of trees could further strain health systems.</p><p>Blazing wildfires, like the ones that devastated the Amazon last year, spout pollutants that lower air quality and work their way into people's lungs, exacerbating the same <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-air-pollution-might-raise-risk-of-fatality/a-52977422" target="_blank">breathing diseases</a> that leave people more vulnerable to the coronavirus. A joint peak in forest fires and COVID-19 cases could overwhelm hospitals without "incisive intervention by the State to curb illegal acts," according to a report published in May by INPE.</p><p>That could collapse health systems in several Amazonian states that are already operating at the limit, the authors wrote. "If the turning point of the epidemiological curve of COVID-19 does not occur immediately, in May 2020, there will certainly be an overlap of fires with the pandemic."</p><p>This could spell disaster for indigenous peoples and uncontacted tribes, said Sarah Shenker, a campaigner with Survival International. "In Brazil, there are more than 100 uncontacted tribes and they could be wiped out if invaders are not removed from their territory."</p><p>Even before the current coronavirus crisis, scientists warned that <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/how-deforestation-can-lead-to-more-infectious-diseases/a-53282244" target="_blank">forest loss makes pandemics more likely</a> by increasing the chance that diseases jump from animals to humans. A study published in the journal PNAS in October found that deforestation of the Amazon significantly increases transmission of malaria, a different type of disease.</p>
Preserving the Climate<p>The Amazon rainforest — 60 percent of which lies in Brazil — is one of the world's great carbon sinks. Preserving its trees and plants is crucial to meeting international targets that <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/co2-emissions-gap-un-report-warns-of-collective-failure-to-act/a-51407286" target="_blank">limit global warming</a> to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.</p><p>Lawsuits that take years to complete are not going to produce results fast enough, said Ricardo Galvao, a former director of INPE who was <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/brazils-research-chief-sacked-after-deforestation-row-with-bolsonaro/a-49874119" target="_blank">fired by Bolsonaro</a> in August.</p><p>To curb deforestation in the Amazon, said Galvao, the best tools are "positive actions that show [that] exploring the forest, rather than destroying it, gives economic returns." For instance, international organizations like the UN could certify products from sustainably managed forests and countries could lower import taxes on such "green-stamped" goods.</p>
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Right-wing Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's administration has pushed pause on monitoring industry in protected areas of the Amazon, the New York Times reports.