Backed by military aircraft, tens of thousands of Brazilian troops have been deployed in the Amazon to fight fires ravaging the rainforest.
About 44,000 troops will be available for “unprecedented” operations to put out the fires, and forces are heading to six Brazilian states that asked for federal help, Defence Minister Fernando Azevedo said. The states are Roraima, Rondonia, Tocantins, Para, Acre and Mato Grosso.
The Brazilian military operations followed widespread criticism of President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the crisis. On Friday, the president authorized the armed forces to put out fires, saying he is committed to protecting the Amazon region.
The blazes have sparked anti-government protests in Brazil and became a pressing issue for leaders at the Group of Seven summit in France.
French President Emmanuel Macron thrust the Amazon fires to the top of the agenda in Biarritz after declaring them a global emergency. He threatened torpedo a European Union trade deal with Brazil and other South American countries. France claims a small part of the Amazon in its overseas department of French Guiana.
Macron said Sunday that leaders of major democracies are nearing an agreement on how to help fight the fires and repair the damage. He said agreement would involve both technical and financial mechanisms “so that we can help them in the most effective way possible.”
It’s not clear, however, whether Brazil would welcome the help.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also at the summit, came down against blocking the EU-Mercosur trade accord, but said she was in favour of treating the Amazon fires as an urgent threat.
Brazilian government satellite monitors have recorded more than 41,000 fires in the Amazon region so far this year — with more than half of those coming this month alone. Experts say most of the fires are set by farmers or ranchers clearing existing farmland. But the same monitoring agency has reported a sharp increase in deforestation this year as well.
‘We’re all worried’
Pope Francis said Sunday that the Amazon forest is vital for our Earth and is urging prayers that fires there are quickly controlled.
Francis added his voice to the chorus of international concern that the blazes in Brazil will have grave repercussions on the world’s environmental health.
The pontiff, who is from the South American nation of Argentina that borders Brazil, told the public in St. Peter’s Square that “we’re all worried” about the vast Amazon fires. He warned that that green “lung of forest is vital for our planet.”
Francis said “let us pray so that, with the efforts of all, they are controlled as quickly as possible.”
DiCaprio pledges support
A new environmental foundation backed by actor Leonardo DiCaprio is pledging $5 million US in aid to the Amazon, which has been swept by wildfires.
Earth Alliance was created last month by DiCaprio and philanthropists Laurene Powell Jobs and Brian Sheth. On Sunday, it launched the Amazon Forest Fund in an announcement on its website. The alliance is also seeking donations to help repair the Brazilian rainforest, called the “lungs of the planet.”
According to the website, 100 per cent of proceeds will go directly to helping protect the rainforest.
The Academy Award-winning actor, known for films like The Revenant and The Great Gatsby, has demonstrated a longtime commitment to fighting climate change. However, he was also called out for spreading inaccurate information when a photo he re-posted on his Instagram last week of the forests burning was found to be from 2018.
Brazilian federal experts reported a record number of wildfires across the country this year, up 84 per cent over the same period in 2018.
The funds will be distributed to five local groups working to combat the problem.