Amazon fires: just one piece of the exploitation puzzle

A year ago, we launched an appeal to support work in Brazil following devastating fires in the Amazon. Now the rainforest is burning again and compared to last July the number of fires in Brazil has increased by a terrifying 28%. Though the situation may have faded from media focus, colleagues, communities and allies need your help.
  Published:  29 Jan 2020    |      Last updated:  06 Aug 2020    |      3 minute read

While wildfires are not uncommon during the Amazonian dry season, the scale of the fires in 2019 was beyond anything seen before, and caused international concern.

Fires burning in Amazon
Credit: Pedarilhos/Getty Images
Fires in the Amazon, 2019

This year, the number of fires has increased and more than 1,000 fires were registered on 30 July 2020 alone, the highest number for a single day in July since 2005. Natural fires in the Amazon are very rare and the increase in the fires has largely been attributed to human causes  specifically the illegal burning and deforestation of rainforest to clear space for mining, logging, soy and cattle farming.

Arthur, from Friends of the Earth Brazil, says:

"None of this is new. However, the scale of the fires reached new heights following [President] Bolsonaro's hate speech against rural and indigenous workers, the government's largely pro-ruralist policies, and the dismantling of environmental policies and enforcement agencies."

Bolsonaro's position has emboldened land-grabbers to invade public and indigenous land and claim them as farmland. It’s unclear exactly how many of these fires were started intentionally. What is clear is that any man-made fire is one too many.

The people who bear the brunt of this illegal and often violent activity are those living in rural and indigenous communities. It's no mistake that these groups are routinely denied a voice in the debate over the fate of the Brazilian Amazon.

Community impact

The Coronavirus pandemic has hit Brazil hard, with more than 50,000 deaths and one million cases diagnosed as of June 2020. Land grabbers, miners and illegal loggers are ignoring quarantine rules and are taking advantage of the government's inaction when it comes to protecting community land.

Environmental activists are also being killed around the world in record numbers, and in Brazil community leaders including Maria do Espírito Santo and Zé Cláudio have lost their lives in the fight to defend their land and peoples' rights.

With support from the appeal, Arthur and the Friends of the Earth team in Brazil have been working alongside indigenous, quilombola, and fisher communities. In the states of Acre and Pará, communities voiced their concerns that the fires were just part of the problem:

"[In Pará], the exploitation of the Amazon is evident: illegal loggers, soybeans, mining, ports, railways... in short, an enormous mechanism that doesn't take into account people and their cultures, instead causing pain and death."

Taking action

Thanks to donations from the Amazon appeal, Friends of the Earth Brazil has successfully helped halt a huge port construction project in Maicá, Santarém.

The project directly threatened the way of life for the surrounding 12 quilombola communities, violated their rights and compromised the region's biodiversity. For the project to continue there will first have to be a mandatory consultation with the affected communities.

Arthur and the team are also using journalism to help spread the word and empower communities.

"Journalism in Brazil is pretty much concentrated in the hands of the powerful, and it is difficult to find space for the voices of communities. Going forward, we are planning to carry out communications training in the territories, so that communities can tell their stories, appeal to the wider Brazilian population and advocate for their land."

Conservation leaflet: "Don't give up your land! The land is our mother, our life and our fortune."
Conservation leaflet: "Don't give up your land! The land is our mother, our life, our fortune."

Collaboration – and understanding the challenges faced by the communities themselves – is at the heart of Friends of the Earth Brazil's strategy.

"It is extremely important, in our view, to strengthen the resistance that already exists in the Amazon. That is why we choose to act together with our allies (Terra de Direitos and MAB – Movement of People Affected by Dams), rather than working alone. We know there's no silver bullet solution, so our aim is to empower the organisations and people who dedicate their lives, on a daily basis and over the course of many years, to survival in and of the Amazon."

International solidarity

Climate breakdown knows no borders. While it may seem remote, what happens to the Amazon – and the communities it's home to – can and will have a global effect. It is crucial that we show solidarity.

We need to ensure the UK isn't supporting the destruction of our Earth’s natural resources, whether it's the Amazon rainforest or the Mozambican coastline, which is why we're ramping up our efforts to hold UK government to account on where taxpayer's money is being "invested". With your support, we'll keep fighting for climate justice at home and around the world.

The UK government is using taxpayers money to fund oil and gas projects abroad. Help stop this.