World's largest wetland has worst October fires on record

SAO PAULO (BLOOMBERG) – Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands, a fragile cradle of endangered species, burned at the fastest rate for the month of October since record keeping started in 1998, further damaging the country’s environmental credentials.

At least 2,846 fire spots have been registered this month in the biome, surpassing a previous 2002 record, according to data from Brazil’s Spacial Research Institute, known as INPE. So far this year, an area larger than the size of Belgium has been lost to the flames.

The Pantanal is home to around 1,200 species of animals, about 40 of which are threatened with extinction. Photos of burnt animals found among the ashes, including rescued Brazilian jaguars with bandaged paws, have shocked the world and raised questions about Brazil’s environmental policies.

With the Amazon rainforest also burning at a record pace this year, foreign investors have started to demand more action from President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration to protect the environment.

Although a wetland, the Pantanal is facing its worst drought in 47 years, which has contributed to the spread of the flames. Brazil’s government has pointed to the drought as the “major cause” of the fires, but environmental organisations say the blazes have been caused primarily by humans. The environment ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

INPE uses satellites to detect fire spots at least 30 metres long and 1 metre wide. One spot, however, can encompass a vast area. More than 3.5 million hectares – an area larger than Belgium – have already burned this year in the Pantanal, according to data from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where the majority of the biome is located.

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