Amazon fires threaten indigenous communities, biodiversity and global climate

August 29, 2019

The current number of fires in the Amazon is one of the highest in recent years. Fires are more common in areas affected by deforestation because this land is often cleared for agriculture by using fires. But they’re not nearly as bad as this year.

The Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world, is a hotspot of biodiversity and plays a crucial role in the world’s climate. The rainforest is also home to many indigenous peoples and traditional communities.

The Karipuna are a group of indigenous people in Rondônia, one of Brazil’s Amazon states. They are not only suffering from the threat of deforestation and setbacks in environmental and social achievements under the Bolsonaro government, but now also from severe forest fires.

We are all facing threats: our people are threatened physically and our land is being burned and invaded.

The Karipuna are calling out for help

Adriano Karipuna, a leader of the Karipuna people, says his territory – which they protect- is calling out for help. “Many invaders are entering our territory, and we are surrounded by large farms. A month ago lots of fires broke out on the Karipuna Land, destroying the forest and causing environmental and social impact. The number of fish and animals we need for food has greatly decreased because of the encroachment on our land. We are all facing threats: our people are threatened physically and our land is being burned and invaded.”

The Brazilian state of Rondônia is one of the worst affected areas. According to satellite data, it registered 5,533 forest fires this year alone. That is an increase of 190% in the state compared to last year. Since the beginning of August, 657 fires have been registered in a 20 km long buffer zone around the Karipuna land. Of these, 34 were also within their territory.

Forest fires in and around Karipuna Indigenous Territory / Global Forest Watch – click on the image for original map

Deforestation makes areas vulnerable to fires. It contributes directly to a change in the rainfall pattern in the region, which, together with the impacts of climate change, makes the dry season longer and more intense.

As for the fires, every single one in the Amazon reduces the rainforest’s ability to store carbon, cool down the earth and produce rain. Moreover, there is more human activity in deforested regions. The majority of fires – whether consciously or not – are started by people, and most fires are found in the states with the most deforestation.

It’s extremely sad to see a heritage like Nature herself literally going up in flames.

The effects of climate change and deforestation are also being felt in the Karipuna territory. Adriano tells us that his people have never suffered as much as this August. “We’ve been protecting our territory for a long time, but these fires are harming our health. We’re afraid that we’re going to have respiratory and other health problems because of breathing so much smoke. We’ve made numerous complaints to the authorities like the Federal Prosecutor, the Federal Police, and the National Indian Foundation (Funai). It’s extremely sad to see a heritage like Nature herself literally going up in flames, with invaders killing off the biodiversity and destroying human lives.”

Interview with members of the Karipuna community by Al Jazeera English:

That’s why we fight against deforestation and ecosystem degradation

With our All Eyes on the Amazon program, we are standing with the Karipuna and other indigenous and local communities, who are the guardians of the Amazon. We support them in detecting deforestation, degradation and human rights violations, recording these events and eventually stopping them.

In mid-2018, All Eyes on the Amazon publicly denounced the illegal invasion of the Karipuna land. This month, nine people and two companies must appear in court for allegations of invasion, occupation and deforestation of the Karipuna area. The charge is the result of extensive investigation by the Federal Police and the Federal Public Prosecution Service.

Unfortunately, this lawsuit alone won’t stop the current forest fires. But at least it gives a signal of hope. Despite the rhetoric and policies of the Bolsonaro government, one cannot destroy the Amazon.

Protecting the forest is not only the Karipuna’s responsibility, but every human being’s.

Our support and yours

Adriano’s message is clear: “I hope the European Union looks more kindly on the Karipuna because we are the ones protecting the forest. We’re very concerned about the EU-Mercosur agreement, which could see Brazil’s exports of beef and soy increase. And these exports come at a high price: getting rid of both the forest and its inhabitants. Protecting the forest is not only the Karipuna’s responsibility, but every human being’s – because protecting nature also means preventing climate change. But it can all end in a blink of an eye.”

Adriano Karipuna speaking at the UN / photo Luiz Roberto Lima, Greenpeace

Together with Adriano, we continue the fight to protect the Amazon rainforest. In Brazil, we have publicly joined civil society organizations in responding to the Bolsonaro government’s allegations that NGOs were behind the fires that are destroying the Amazon. In the short period this government has been in power, deforestation, invasion of parks and indigenous lands, illegal and predatory exploitation of natural resources, murders of community and indigenous leaders, and of environmentalists, have all increased.

What can you do?

Please share this story on social media using the icons below. And sign the petition of our All Eyes on the Amazon partner Greenpeace.