September 19, 2019
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International community calls for saving of the Amazon, engulfed in fire

Bogota, Aug 22 (efe-epa).- The fires raging in Brazil's Amazon rainforest have fueled global fears of environmental devastation, the climate crisis and the impact of state policies that favor the exploitation of resources in protected areas.

"Hell in the Jungle", said the Thursday headline of one of Brazil's main newspapers on the crisis in the Amazon, a vast territory shared by Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

World leaders, governments and celebrities joined the global appeal for the protection of the rainforest that is going up in flames and for which Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has insinuated that non-governmental organizations are to blame.

"In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity. The Amazon must be protected," United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned in a post on Twitter.

French President Emmanuel Macron called the fires "an international crisis" and said the matter will be discussed with urgency over the weekend during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France.

In response to Macron's tweet, Bolsonaro lamented that the French president "seeks to instrumentalize an internal issue of Brazil and other Amazonian countries for personal political gains."

Colombia has proposed that Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru undertake a joint project of prevention in the face of the environmental catastrophe, while the government of Chile has confirmed its offer of assistance to Brazil to fight the fires.

Argentinian President Mauricio Macri said on Twitter “the devastating fires in the main oxygen reserve in the region hurt us, worry us and make it urgent to offer our cooperation,” and offered the country's help.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government expressed its "deep concern" and offered its "modest help" in mitigating the "painful tragedy immediately."

Costa Rica's foreign ministry also expressed its "deep concern for the devastating" fires.

Meanwhile, the Catholic bishops taking part in the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) meeting asked the governments of Brazil and Bolivia, as well as the international community "to take serious measures to save the lungs of the world."

"What happens to the Amazon is not just a local issue but of global reach. If the Amazon suffers, the world suffers," the bishops said in a statement.

Members of the International Youth Climate Movement will gather outside Brazilian embassies around the world on Friday demanding action.

"We urge local governments, organized civil society and youth, in general, to cooperate together to stop this ecocide. If we don't act now, no one else will," the youth organization said on Twitter.

#PrayforAmazonia trended on Twitter as thousands took to social media to draw attention to the catastrophe.

Celebrities also took to the microblogging site and Instagram to express concern over the rainforest fires.

Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio posted a picture of the raging fire with the caption, "Terrifying to think that the Amazon is the largest rain forest on the planet (...) has been on fire and burning for the last 16 days running, with literally NO media coverage whatsoever! Why?"

"When Notre Dame was burning, the world's media covered every moment of it and billionaires rushed to restore it. Right now the Amazon is burning, the lungs of our planet. It has been burning for three weeks now. No media coverage. No billionaires," Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin said in a post on his Instagram account.

This is one of the worst fires in recent years in the Amazon, which accounts for 25 percent of the continent's surface area and is the largest tropical forest in the world. EFE-EPA


Related content

Brazil must abide by EU-Mercosur deal's climate commitments, ambassador says

By Isadora Camargo

Sao Paulo, Aug 23 (efe-epa).- The European Union's new ambassador to Brazil praised that country's determination to implement the recently struck trade deal linking the EU and South American trade bloc Mercosur, although in an interview with EFE he reminded Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro that compliance with the Paris climate accord is an essential element of that agreement.

Spain's Ignacio Ybañez said Bolsonaro was wrong to criticize the governments of Norway and Germany for suspending their donations to the Amazon Fund, a Brazilian government program aimed at conserving the world's largest tropical rainforest.

Those funds are being held back due to concerns about the Bolsonaro administration's commitment to Amazon preservation.

However, after touting the advantages of the EU-Mercosur trade deal in a speech at the Spanish Chamber of Commerce in Sao Paulo, the new ambassador said he would work to strengthen and improve bilateral relations between Europe and Brazil, with an emphasis on the industrial and business sectors.

In contrast to the protectionism adopted by the United States and China, he said the EU and Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) are advocating for "liberalization and economic sustainability."

In his interview with EFE after his address to Spanish business leaders in Brazil's largest city, Ybañez also discussed Europe's concerns with respect to ratification of the accord.

Q. Could the increase in Amazon deforestation adversely affect or delay ratification of (the trade deal) between Mercosur and the European Union?

A. We spent 20 years negotiating the agreement, which is a investment in the future by these two regions, so it's not right to think that the legislatures are going to respond to isolated things. What's most important is that the agreement contains commitments on how we want our future relationship to be. For example, on the environmental issue there's a clear commitment on the part of Brazil and Mercosur to comply with the Paris agreement (on climate change) and international treaties.

Q. What concerns the EU the most with respect to ratification of the trade deal?

A. What really concerns us is that the administrations are able to effectively inform their legislatures about what's at stake with that accord and the effects it will have. The commitment we're making is to the common values of rule of law, human rights, sustainability and economic liberalization.

Q. How is the relationship with the Brazilian government?

A. In a certain sense, the message I'm transmitting to the government is that the will of the European institutions is to work in all directions (to improve relations) and that strengthening the bilateral relationship with Brazil is more than just facilitating ratification of the EU-Mercosur deal.

Q. And what is needed to secure ratification?

A. We'll secure ratification if we do a good job explaining the deal for both parties. It's not just a trade agreement, and that's what we want to get across: our commitment is to work together in an intensive manner.

Q. What is Europe's stance with respect to the latest pesticide approvals in Brazil?

A. These (pesticide-contaminated) products cannot enter the European market. The health of citizens of the two blocs must be preserved. If Brazilian producers want to continue exporting to Europe, which is a very attractive market for them, they must comply with the health standards established by Europe.

Q. Is it difficult to talk with the Brazilian government about environmental issues?

A. It's not more difficult or easier. We don't intend to lower the standards we've established. We're at the start of a new government that's adopting its own policies and we have to keep promoting dialogue day by day. I see that there's a very clear commitment by the Bolsonaro government to the trade deal, which is a radical change in our relations.

Q. What are the mid-term expectations for the trade agreement?

A. In the medium term, the goal of the accord is for the standards of the European Union and Mercosur to be more and more closely aligned and for there to be a dialogue between both sides that protects the two sides. We're going to establish a market that's much broader and much better.

Q. How will the EU delegation work in Brazil?

A. The will of the EU delegation here is to work alongside the Brazilian government, which also now has the responsibility of exercising the (rotating) presidency of Mercosur, and so it will be our direct point of contact with the bloc's member countries. EFE-EPA


Wildfires in Brazil's Amazon blanket state capital in smoke

Porto Velho, Brazil, Aug 23 (efe-epa).- Porto Velho, capital of the northern Brazilian state of Rondonia, was enveloped early Friday in smoke generated by the massive Brazilian Amazon wildfires that have devastated part of that tropical rainforest and captured the attention of the international community.

Although that city is accustomed at this time of year to coping with wildfire-triggered smoke brought about by drought and high temperatures, the blazes on this occasion have been particularly intense.

Over the past week, the number of minors requiring treatment for respiratory ailments has tripled to 380 cases, according to that city's Cosme e Damiao public children's hospital.

The smell of the smoke cloaking this city of nearly 600,000 inhabitants is noticeable from the Governador Jorge Teixeira de Oliveira International Airport, which has not been operating all of its regular flights in recent days due to the fires.

The Highway Police, meanwhile, called on motorists to take extra precautions on federal highway BR-365, which links Rondonia to the rest of the country, although despite reduced visibility from the smoke no accidents have been reported.

The state-run Amazonian Protection System (Sipam) says the region has received barely any rainfall for two months and that the precipitation that fell on Monday was not sufficient to extinguish nearby forest fires, which spread to the Nacional district and other parts of Porto Velho's rural outskirts.

The flames are continuing to devour parts of the Amazon rainforest amid growing popular indignation, a tragedy that environmental watchdog groups say has been caused by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's "anti-environmental rhetoric."

Bolsonaro, for his part, has said of the environmental disaster that those non-governmental organizations are the "biggest suspects."

Though providing no evidence to back up his claims, Bolsonaro said some of the fires - those caused by deforestation as opposed to natural causes - may have been set by ranchers and NGOs upset at his administration over budget cuts.

Facing intense criticism from Brazilian civil society, international organizations and European governments, Bolsonaro on Friday called an urgent ministerial meeting to map out a strategy to combat the fires.

The National Space Research Council (INPE), which monitors fires in Brazil using satellite imagery, said the number of blazes in the country was up 83 percent compared to this time last year.

The INPE said in a report released on Tuesday that 71,497 fires had been registered between Jan. 1 and Aug. 18 in Brazil, with 52.5 percent of the blazes occurring in the Amazon region.

In the past week, according to the INPE, some 68 protected areas or indigenous reservations in the Amazon have been affected by fires.

Environmental and other NGOs, for their part, said they feared that settlers and agricultural business owners out to expand their holdings may be setting the fires in response to Bolsonaro's policies.

The Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) said the growing number of fires was "related to deforestation and not to the worst drought imaginable."

The IPAM, an independent research organization, said in a statement that "if the drought does not explain the fires, the advance of deforestation does. Fire is normally used (by settlers and property owners) to clear the land after deforestation." EFE-EPA


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