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Wildfires: How Much Have We Lost to This Global Trend in 2019?

The inferno in the Amazon Rainforest within Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil and Peru has largely subsided, but its impact continues to swamp us with the saddening realization of having lost 2,240,000 acres of forest to more than 74,000 fires across all of Brazil. Looking at these numbers and the zeroes tailing them, you can guess how detrimental the situation is; but imagine losing what we call the ‘Lungs of the Earth’ at the rate of one-and-a-half soccer fields, every minute of every day, for months! 

While the occurrence of these wildfires is not as rare as it may seem, it was highly exacerbated this year, and according to the data quoted by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the worst ever since the organization started monitoring the situation in 2013. Beginning around January and spreading until the start of September, these wildfires have largely receded, falling 36% in September from August on account of better weather conditions and the efforts of the country’s military.

The reason behind these supposedly unprecedented wildfires is not entirely natural. More than 85% of the time,  they are caused by unintentional or intentional human actions like arson, unattended debris, camp-fires, or even something as seemingly inconsequential as not putting out cigarette butts. Although, in the case of the Amazon rainforests, what mainly triggered the conflagration was excessive mining, deforestation caused by farmers, and especially ranchers who are responsible for 80% of the converted lands in the forest being utilized for cattle grazing. 

However, that is not where it ends. 

World Wide Fund also links the deforestation to soybean plantations, because these “Brazilian Beans”, as they generally put, are of paramount importance to not only the Brazilian market but also cattle ranchers themselves. How? Ranchers clear patches of forests and use it for low-productivity cattle grazing and then lease the land to soy developers, who improve the soil conditions to make it suitable for growing soybeans. After the lease expires, the ranchers take advantage of the enriched soil to boost cattle productivity. This keeps the two major export commodities locked in an inimical cycle of interdependence.

It also doesn’t help that 80% of the cattle ranching is unwarranted, and those who illegitimately practice it are indirectly given the go-ahead by their President, Jai Bolsonaro, whose counter-revolutionary ideas and pro-agribusiness agenda deem the deforestation a necessary part of development in the days yet to come. 

So far our primary concern has been the effect of the infernos on the climate, the acres of forests we’ve lost, and the reason behind this unprecedented catastrophe, but what we often fail to give importance to, are diseases like atherosclerosis, inflammation, cancer and even nerve disorders, all of which are caused due to the gases and pollutants liberated in the process. CNN reports estimate that the cities closest to the fires saw a 36% increase in children’s hospitalizations for respiratory diseases. 

The Amazon is also home to billions of animals—from insects to panthers. Many of them did not survive, and many others are probably still hiding, seeking refuge. In the Amazon, we discover a new species every two days, so it’s hard to even fathom what we’ve already lost, before we even knew we had it.

Similar reports from all over the world clearly show that these wildfires are becoming a global trend. After the news of the Amazon wildfires surfaced, there have been reports of the same in Indonesia as well. California experienced the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in its history in 2017 and 2018. Additionally, on the morning of October 14th this year, a fire whirl tore through the forests in the mountainous area near the village of Meshref in Lebanon’s Shouf Mountains. It is still causing destruction, with the fires having spread to Syria and Beirut. Countries like Jordan, Cyprus and Greece have helped Lebanon in deploying helicopters and water cannons to put out the fires, but strong winds and unusually high temperatures in the area have made the task more arduous.

Many residents were displaced after losing their homes to what was the worst inferno to hit Lebanon in years, but there were no reports of fatalities. The Lebanese Red Cross announced that they had treated more than 70 people at a field hospital, mostly for smoke inhalation, minor burns and other light injuries.  

The unavoidable reason for the escalation of wildfires is that they spawn more fire and somehow manage to keep themselves alive. Even a small spark can inevitably wreak havoc and desecrate our biodiversity to a point beyond which there will be no return. As of now, we’re standing on a powder-keg, and if the global climate crisis keeps getting fueled by such disasters, we’ll be left with nothing to save. 

Ironically, in the quest for a better future, we’re losing all chances of ever being a part of one. How can we realize, yet fail to truly understand the gravity of this statement? How is it humanly possible for those who have the power to do something- our politicians and world-leaders- to just stand by and watch, as we lose a million acres of forests to raging wildfires? How do we sleep, knowing today, fifty years from now sounds like an unattainable dream? 

The picture that is slowly starting to form out of the bleak reality of this world is dystopic and it brings me to tears. I say, be alarmed. Be scared. Because some changes have already become irreversible, and as quoted by conservationists, we have a maximum of 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, before it’s too late. So we should do everything in our power to make sure we do.   

Rimsha is studying at Manipal Institute Of Technology. An IT engineer in the making.
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