Brazil’s prime minister has accused environmental groups of starting fires that are ripping through the Amazon rainforest – though has provided no evidence for this claim.
The area has seen a record number of fires this year, with the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), it detecting 72,843 fires between January and August – a staggering increase of 84 percent on the same period in 2018.
The Amazon Rainforest, the world’s largest tropical forest, is not only home to around one million indigenous people and three million species of plants and animals, it also slows down the pace of global warming, as a vital carbon store.
PM Jair Bolsonaro is being blamed by many for the blaze, as he pledged to develop the region for farming and mining when he took office in January, despite the warnings of conservationists around deforestation.
In the last decade, Brazilian governments had slowed the rate of deforestation, implementing a system of fines and action by federal agencies, with Greenpeace Brazil accusing the politician of ‘systematically dismantling Brazil’s environmental policy’.
But there has been a decline in the number of environmental crime convictions and timber confiscations under Bolsonaro, who has criticized the penalties implemented by former ministers.
Now Bolsonaro claims environmentalists started the fires in a bid to embarrass his government.
“On the question of burning in the Amazon, which in my opinion may have been initiated by NGOs because they lost money, what is the intention? To bring problems to Brazil,” he is reported as saying.
Reports say that when pressed on this statement, Bolsonaro admitted there was was no evidence, it was just what he felt.
‘A sick statement’
The PM’s words have been challenged by environmentalists including Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy coordinator, who said: “This is a sick statement, a pitiful statement. Increased deforestation and burning are the result of his anti-environmental policy.”
Paulo Moutinho, co-founder of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, added: “It is very difficult to have natural fires in the Amazon; it happens but the majority come from the hand of humans.”
Reports say it is unclear which of the blazes are wildfires and which were deliberately set by farmers.