WWF – Fourfold increase in fires magnifies threat to Brazil’s Cerrado

The Russian wildfire disasters may be over (this year, at least), but climate change and people illegally setting fire to forests to make way for farmland are also causing great fire damage in Brazil. WWF reports:

Brazil’s crucial Cerrado region leads the tally of areas most damaged by a crippling drought in the country, with nearly 60,000 fire outbreaks recorded in the five months to September.

The fires, which have increased 350% over the same period in 2009, have devastated large areas of some Cerrado national parks, threaten to cause large scale changes to vegetation cover and are being reflected in a marked rise in respiratory complaints in the human population.

Most fires are attributed to human causes, with many being set illegally – an ever-present factor currently accelerated due to a legislative challenge to Brazil’s Forest Code.

As indicated above, the situation may get even worse with proposed changes to the country’s Forest Code. While 80% of forest farms are legally allowed to be cleared in the Cerrado right now, in the Amazon, farmers must preserve up to 80% of natural vegetation. However, proposals to change the Forest Code “may grant amnesty those who illegally cut down and reduce the protection of forests on the banks of rivers, slopes and hilltops across the country.”

The fires are damaging animals habitats and endangering animals, of course, but they are also having a considerable effect on humans:

A survey conducted by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation’s National Public Health School shows that people exposed to smoke from the Cerrado hotspots, especially children and the elderly, face increased risks of asthma, bronchitis and even heart attacks.

Identifying where the fires are actually being started and by whom, or what, is the important next step, but one thing is clear — better management and enforcement of the laws is needed.

Geographer and local NGO representative Mara Moscosos adds that while she believes that the majority of this year’s devastating Cerrado fires are natural, the impact has been worsened by ineffective public policy. She points to a lack of campaigns targeting the public, as well as poor surveillance and inspection of illegal burning as major sore spots….

“Better public policy is of the utmost importance to protect the Cerrado and allow this massive area of savanna to recuperate. It has already lost half of its original vegetation,” she says.

Read more on this story via the WWF: Fourfold increase in fires magnifies threat to Brazil’s Cerrado.

Photo Credit: pedrobiondi via flickr (CC license)