Fires in the Brazilian Pantanal break a record

Posted on August, 21 2020

Almost half of the fire outbreaks recorded by Inpe this year in the biome were detected in the first 20 days of August.
São Paulo, 21 August -- As the hot, dry days progress, the Brazilian Pantanal and the Amazon are under more pressure from fires. Even the presence of the Brazilian Armed Forces in some parts of the biomes, and the presidential decree banning fires for 120 days in the country, have not been able to interrupt the cycle of destruction. From 1 January to 20 August, the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) detected 8,058 fire outbreaks in the Pantanal, 205% higher than the same period in 2019.

The municipalities of Poconé, in Mato Grosso state, and Corumbá, in Mato Grosso do Sul state, recorded the most number of fire outbreaks in August: 1,397 and 1,310, respectively. Inpe's website provides data on fires outbreaks for the biomes since 1998. Since then, the Pantanal has never experienced a tragedy like this year.

“It has rained very little in 2020 and the Pantanal is experiencing one of the worst droughts in the last 47 years,” explains Júlio Cesar Sampaio, leader of WWF-Brazil's Pantanal Initiative.

Nearly half (47.6%) of all outbreaks of fires in the Pantanal were recorded in the first 20 days of August. According to Sampaio, although August is a dry season, many areas of the biome should still be flooded from previous months' rains. But instead, they have dried up, leaving more vegetation exposed to fire. The water levels in the Paraguay River, one of the most important in the biome, is at critical levels.

Sampaio points out that in addition to the climate issue, human actions have contributed to the process of degradation in the Pantanal. Many fires that have occurred in the past few weeks have started with fires made to clean cultivation areas or pastures. The biome is under considerable pressure due to extensive agriculture and livestock activities. "With the severe drought we are experiencing, this problem is intensifying," he says.

With an area of ​​150 thousand km2, the Pantanal crosses the Brazilian border and extends through Bolivia and Paraguay. “It is the great treasure of South America, unique on the planet. The Pantanal is the largest continental wetland in the world. Rich in biodiversity and ecosystem services, whether through water production or CO2 capture. But, poor management and neglect, no doubt, bring huge losses for communities both in Brazil and in countries that share the biome,” adds Sampaio. 

Situation in the Amazon

In parallel, 35,308 fire outbreaks were detected in the Amazon between 1 January and 20 August. Although there was a 9% decrease in comparison with the same period last year, there is no reason to celebrate. About 58% of the outbreaks registered by Inpe throughout 2020 in the biome were captured in the first 20 days of August alone. “Deforestation in the Amazon has jumped by 35% in the last twelve months. There are many areas of forest already felled that can still be burned,” warns Mariana Napolitano, Science Manager at WWF-Brazil.

In addition to the loss of biodiversity, fires are also devastating for the population at a time when the health system is at the limit due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Entities promote moratorium on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon

More than 60 civil society organizations and collectives delivered on 6 August to the presidents of the Chamber and the Senate, foreign investors and Brazilian and European parliamentarians a letter with five emergency proposals to contain the deforestation crisis in the Amazon. One of the measures is the establishment of a moratorium of at least five years to cut the forest. Read more here.

Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBIO)

One of the main institutions created to defend the Brazilian nature faces instability. By decision of the Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, Colonel of the Military Police Homero Cerqueira was dismissed from the presidency of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), which is responsible for the management of 334 federal conservation units. The resignation was formalized today. 

What WWF-Brazil is doing

WWF-Brazil has been providing immediate support for fighting fires and continuously against deforestation. The organization's main goal is to strengthen local forest guardians, so that they have conditions and training to monitor threats, such as deforestation and invasions of territories that lead to increased fires.

In partnership with the WWF Network, since August 2019 we are strengthening our actions in the Amazon. Our projects have already reached 55.8 million hectares or about 14% of the Brazilian Amazon, an area larger than the territories of Spain and Switzerland combined.

Twenty-six civil society organizations and nine government agencies are benefiting from the projects. The initiative also reached 77 indigenous lands and conservation units and more than 117,000 people. In addition, more than 6,000 pieces of equipment were donated and around 50 training sessions, workshops and assemblies were held with over 2,800 participants.

In the specific context of Covid-19, more than 32,000 people - indigenous and agroextractivists - received food, hygiene products and equipment in the Amazon and in the Cerrado.
Fires in Ladario, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil. August 2020.
© Silas Ismael / WWF-Brasil