World

Warplanes dump water on Amazon as Brazil military begins fighting massive fires; rain forest said 17% destroyed

Reuters, AP, AFP-JIJI

Brazilian warplanes are dumping water on the burning forest in the Amazon state of Rondonia, responding to a global outcry over the destruction of the world’s largest tropical rainforest, according to a government video.

As of Sunday, President Jair Bolsonaro had authorized military operations in seven states to combat raging fires in the Amazon, responding to requests for assistance from their local governments, a spokeswoman for his office said.

The video posted by the Defense Ministry on Saturday evening showed a military plane pumping thousands of liters of water out of two giant jets as it passed through clouds of smoke close to the forest canopy.

The response comes as leaders of countries in the Group of Seven nations currently meeting in France expressed grave concerns over the fires.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said the G7 was nearing a deal to provide “technical and financial help” to countries affected by the Amazon fires.

Nearly 80,000 fires have been registered across Brazil through Aug. 24, the highest since at least 2013, according to space research agency INPE.

Bolsonaro announced the military would be sent in on Friday after several days of criticism from the public and world leaders that Brazil’s government was not doing anything to fight the fires.

But outside of Rondonia, the government had yet to give operational details for other states. The Defense Ministry said in a briefing on Saturday that 44,000 troops were available in Brazil’s northern Amazon region but did not say how many would be used where and what they would do.

The Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to request for more details on Sunday.

Justice Minister Sergio Moro had also authorized a force of military police to assist in fighting the fires, with 30 set to be sent from Brasilia to Porto Velho. The president’s office posted to Twitter a photo of police officers on a plane bound for Rondonia set to arrive at noon.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles posted a video showing a caravan of yellow fire prevention trucks and other government vehicles, saying they were on the ground responding in Rondonia.

Some say it’s not enough and comes too late.

“No democratic government has suffered such international criticism as Bolsonaro is going through,” said Mauricio Santoro, an international relations professor at Rio de Janeiro State University. “By breaching international environmental agreements, Brazil has been discredited, blurred and unable to exercise any type of leadership on the international stage.”

Many Brazilians again took to the streets in Rio de Janeiro and other cities Sunday to demand the administration do more. Some held banners that read: “Bol$onaro is burning our future.”

Bolsonaro has previously described rainforest protections as an obstacle to Brazil’s economic development. Critics say the record number of fires this year has been stoked by his encouragement of farmers, loggers and ranchers to speed efforts to strip away forest. Although he has now vowed to protect the area, they say it is only out of fear of a diplomatic crisis and economic losses.

“The international pressure today has a bigger impact than the demonstrations by Brazilians on the streets,” Santoro said.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and is seen as vital to the fight against climate change because of the vast amounts of carbon dioxide that it absorbs.

Brazilian climate scientist Carlos Nobre said he worries if 20 to 25 percent of the ecosystem is destroyed that the Amazon could reach a tipping point, after which it would enter a self-sustaining period of dieback as the forest converts to savannah. Nobre warned that it is not far off with already 15 to 17 percent of the rainforest having been destroyed.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday pledged £10 million ($12.3 million) to help restore the Amazon rainforest.

The money would be made available immediately to help restore the habitat, including areas that have been hit by the fires, the British government said in a statement released at the G7 summit in the French resort of Biarritz.

“In a week where we have all watched, horrified, as the Amazon rainforest burns before our eyes, we cannot escape the reality of the damage we are inflicting on the natural world,” Johnson said in a statement.

Although about 60 percent of the Amazon is in Brazil, the vast forest also takes in parts Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

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