The president of Brazil has issued a decree banning the use of fire as a means of clearing land for the next two months following a series of devastating wildfires that continue to ravage the Amazon rainforest.
President Jair Bolsonaro signed the decree on Wednesday, days after announcing he would deploy military troops to help fight the blazes.
Fires are normal in the region, and farmers typically set them in order to clear land so they can grow crops or graze cattle, but the area has seen a 77 percent rise in fires this year as compared to 2018, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, as reported by the BBC, which also reported that prosecutors suspect the increase may be due in part by illegal land clearing.
The decree will last for 60 days and includes several exceptions, such as fires authorized by the country’s environmental agency, fires set as preventative measures to help fight wildfires and those set for farming by indigenous populations.
Bolsonaro, who took office in January, has faced international criticism for his response to the fires, especially after he initially rejected a $22 million pledge from nations attending the G7 summit in France.
According to the New York Times, Bolsonaro’s rejection was due to a feud with French President Emmanuel Macron, whom Bolsonaro targeted in an angry Twitter thread over apparent insults and an implication that Brazil doesn’t have sovereignty over the Amazon. He later said he would reconsider accepting the money if Macron would “withdraw his words.”
Brazil later accepted $12 million in aid from Britain, and help from Chile in the form of four aircrafts, according to Reuters.
The Associated Press reported on Friday that Bolsonaro had ordered a military operation to help fight the fires.
“The protection of the forest is our duty,” the president said. “We are aware of that and will act to combat deforestation and criminal activities that put people at risk in the Amazon. We are a government of zero tolerance for crime, and in the environmental field it will not be different.”
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Meanwhile, hundreds of government workers signed a letter this week blaming Bolsonaro for the increase in fires this year, and warning that if nothing changed, Brazil’s environmental protection agency would “collapse,” according to the Times.
The Amazon spans eight countries and is often referred to as “the planet’s lungs,” as it produces 20 percent of Earth’s oxygen. The onslaught of fire is threatening wildlife and Earth’s oxygen in a disaster that experts are now saying will be felt around the world, including in the Midwest region of the U.S. as weather patterns shift.