RIO DE JANEIRO – Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon region last year was 85 percent greater than that reported in 2018, according to estimates by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) released on Tuesday.
According to the state-run entity, in 2019 deforestation alerts were issued regarding 9,165.6 square kilometers (3,523.3 square miles), 4,219.3 sq. km more than in 2018.
The figures on the devastation of the world’s largest tropical forest in 2019, the highest since 2016, correspond to the forecast on deforestation made by INPE on the basis of a system of alerts regarding changes in forest coverage in Amazonia.
Deforestation has been one of the main causes of the fires in Brazil’s Amazon region that caused alarm around the world last year.
The number of fires in the Amazon increased by about 30 percent, from 68,345 in 2018 to 89,178 last year.
Although the situation did not get as serious as it had been in 2017, when a record 107,439 fires were noted, 2019 was the year with the third-largest number of forest fires in the Amazon since the entity began tabulating them using satellite imagery in 1998.
The peak in fire activity came last August when 30,901 fires were registered, almost three times the number for the same month the year before and the worst figure for the month in the past decade, all this resulting from the ongoing drought, the high temperatures and in large measure from the deforestation caused by humans.
The images of the fires burning huge swaths of vegetation have been seen around the world and sparked a wave of indignation among the international community and non-governmental organizations, which blamed Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for the situation due to his anti-environmentalist rhetoric.
The ultrarightist leader favors the exploitation of the natural resources in the Amazon and has repeatedly railed against the “ecological extremism” of the NGOs.
This led world leaders such as France’s Emmanuel Macron to harshly criticize the stance of the Brazilian president, who felt obligated to send army troops to help firefighters battle the blazes.
Although Bolsonaro attributed the fires mainly to the drought conditions, experts say that the blazes have resulted from human activities such as deforestation carried out by farmers to clear land for planting.