Bogota, 22 August 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday alleged that non-governmental organizations could be behind the devastating wildfires raging in the country’s Amazon rainforest, an accusation that environmentalists rejected.
Bolsonaro’s comments came after national satellite data showed the number of wildfires in Brazil had jumped 83 per cent in 2019 to date compared to last year, according to figures quoted by the daily Folha de Sao Paulo and news portal G1.
More than half of the fires have occurred in the Amazon region, dubbed “the lungs of the planet,” whose preservation environmentalists regard as key to preventing climate change.
Bolsonaro said the fires could be linked to “criminal action” by NGOs whose funds had been cut by the government and which wanted to spread images of the destruction of the Amazon.
Fires erupted “in strategic places” in the Amazon, G1 quoted the president as saying. “For all indications, there were people there to shoot footage.”
Bolsonaro presented no proof for the allegations, admitting there were no documents to back them.
The president of the Brazilian Institute of Environmental Protection (PROAM), Carlos Bocuhy, called Bolsonaro’s comments “completely irresponsible.”
The priority of NGOs was to protect the environment, G1 quoted Bocuhy as saying. “It makes no sense to say that NGOs are setting the forest on fire, on the contrary. It is complete nonsense,” he added.
Ricardo Mello from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said the fires in the Amazon were often caused by farmers who hacked down trees and set the ground on fire to open pasture for their cattle.
Bolsonaro, who has pledged to open more of the rainforest to mining and agriculture, recently sacked the head of the National Institute for Space Research, which he has accused of exaggerating deforestation data.
Brazil saw 72,843 fires on private land, protected areas and indigenous reserves between January and August 19, Folha de Sao Paulo said. Most of the fires in the Amazon – 13,682 – took place in the state of the Mato Grosso in the south of the region.
Smoke from forest fires was linked to a daytime blackout on Monday in Sao Paulo, nearly 2,000 kilometres away.
Environment Minister Ricardo Salles on Tuesday said “dry weather, wind and heat” were fanning the flames and added that firefighters were using aircraft to combat the blazes.
Danicley Aguiar from the environmental organization Greenpeace said that “those who deforest and destroy the Amazon are encouraged by the speech and actions of the Bolsonaro government which … has been carrying out a real dismantling of the country’s environmental policy.”