BRASILIA, Brazil: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro admitted farmers could be illegally setting the rain forest ablaze but told the foreign powers not to meddle in the country’s affairs.
French President Emmanuel Macron and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres expressed concern on Twitter about the blaze that has engulfed record area this year, destroying vast swathes of woodland.
Our house is burning. Literally. The Amazon rain forest – the lungs which produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen – is on fire. It is an international crisis. Members of the G7 Summit, let's discuss this emergency first order in two days! #ActForTheAmazon pic.twitter.com/dogOJj9big
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) August 22, 2019
Bolsonaro responded angrily to what he regarded as interference.
“These countries that send money here, they don’t send it out of charity…. They send it with the aim of interfering with our sovereignty,” he retorted in a Facebook live broadcast.
Earlier on Thursday, he had said that Brazil alone lacked the means to control the fires.
“The Amazon is bigger than Europe, how will you fight criminal fires in such an area?” he questioned. “We do not have the resources for that.”
Fires in the Amazon surged 83% this year compared with the same period a year ago, government figures reveal.
Although fires are a regular and natural occurrence during the dry season, environmentalists blamed the sharp rise on farmers setting the woodland alight to clear land for commercial purposes.
Farmers may have had at least tacit encouragement from the firebrand right-wing president, who assumed power in January. Bolsonaro has repeatedly said that he believes Brazil should open the Amazon up to business interests, to allow mining, agricultural and logging companies to exploit its natural resources.
On Wednesday, he blamed non-governmental organizations for setting the fires, without providing evidence.
He retracted his previous statement on Thursday, when he said that the farmers could be behind the fires.
AD for ‘Fire Day’
Macron took to Twitter to call the Amazon blaze an ‘international crisis’ that should be discussed by the G7 summit beginning on Saturday in Biarritz, France.
Guterres said he was ‘deeply concerned’ by the fires, “We cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity.”
Federal prosecutors in Brazil said they were investigating a spike in deforestation and wildfires raging in the Amazon state of Pará to evaluate whether there has been reduction in monitoring and enforcement of the environmental protections.
Prosecutors said they would look into an ad that they said was published in a local newspaper encouraging farmers to participate in a ‘Fire Day’, in which they were encouraged to light up large areas of forest ‘to show Bolsonaro their willingness to work’.
Colombia, has offered support in the fight to protect the forest.
“Colombian authorities are already working to contain the propagation of these fires toward Colombian territory and we are willing to collaborate with our neighbors in this common cause,” the Foreign Ministry statement read.
Brazil is facing intense international criticism over its handling of the Amazon, 60% of which lies in the country.
Norway and Germany suspended funding for projects to curb deforestation in Brazil after becoming alarmed by the changes to the way projects were selected under the president.
At the time, when asked about the loss of German funding, Bolsonaro said, “Brazil does not need that.”
Brazil’s lower house speaker, Rodrigo Maia, vowed on Twitter to create an external committee to monitor the burning of the Amazon rain forest, and he also promised to form a group to evaluate the situation and propose solutions to the government.
5.5 million km² is covered by Amazon rain forest. The region includes territory belonging to nine nations.
The Bishops Conference for Latin America expressed concern about the tragedy and called on countries to take immediate action to protect the rain forest and nearby communities.
“We urge the governments of the Amazon countries, especially Brazil and Bolivia, the United Nations and the international community to take serious measures to save the world’s lungs,” it said.
Wildfires are also raging in Bolivia, where officials estimate that an area the size of the U.S. state of Delaware has burned in recent days.
Next month, country leaders will gather in New York City for the UN Climate Action Summit.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres celled on leaders to come with concrete plans to strengthen their climate commitments in 2020.