RIO DE JANEIRO – The number of children hospitalized in the Brazilian Amazon due to respiratory problems caused by the forest fires burning in the region has doubled, the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation said in a report released on Wednesday.
The study examined the fires’ effects on the health of children in the Amazon and found that in May and June alone, there were 2,500 more hospitalizations than expected each month in some 100 municipalities located within the official boundaries of the region.
The majority of the hospitalizations occurred in Para, Rondonia, Maranhao and Mato Grosso, four of the states most affected by the fires.
The foundation, which has links to the Health Ministry, said that living in a city close to the fires increased the chances of hospitalization for respiratory problems by 36 percent.
In Para, a state in northern Brazil, 315 forest fires were registered in June and 10,185 in August, an increase of 3,133 percent.
In Maranhao, the number of forest fires increased 349 percent, while Rondonia experienced a rise of 3,190 percent and Mato Grosso experienced a 273 percent increase in forest fires between June and August.
“With the drop in the humidity level and the coming of fire season, there is generally a rise in the number of cases of respiratory illnesses due to the increase in emissions of pollutants and the concentration of toxic gases in the atmosphere, compromising the health of the population,” the report said.
In May and June, there were a total of 5,091 hospitalizations per month in the cities studied, while the expected number was 2,589.
“These figures suggest an excess of 2,500 hospitalizations of children in the cities most affected by the fires,” the report said.
Although the satellite images used by researchers also show the situation on Indian reservations, “it is not yet possible to evaluate the incidence of illnesses in these areas,” the report said.
On Tuesday, the National Space Research Council (INPE), which monitors fires in Brazil using satellite imagery, said a total of 19,925 forest fires were reported in the Brazilian Amazon in September, a figure that was down 19.66 percent from the same month last year.
The INPE said the number of blazes in the Amazon last month was 35.52 percent lower than in August, when 30,901 fires were reported, causing international alarm.
Despite the drop in September, the number of forest fires reported in the first nine months of 2019 was 66,750, up 42.1 percent from the same period last year, the INPE said.
The number of forest fires registered in the January-September 2019 period was below the 70,892 blazes reported during the same period in 2017.
While drought is a factor, experts say that accelerating deforestation is the main driver behind the spike in wildfires.
The images of fires burning in the Amazon made news around the world, unleashing a wave of criticism from the international community and non-governmental organizations at President Jair Bolsonaro, whom activists ripped for his anti-environmental rhetoric.
Bolsonaro, who took office in January, has moved to roll back environmental protections and dismantle barriers to development in indigenous reserves, arguing that Brazil has a sovereign right to develop its natural resources.
The report on the effect of the fires on children’s health was prepared by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation’s Health Information and Communications Institute with the assistance of scientists from the University of Sao Paulo and the University of Mato Grosso.