Amazon fires: just one piece of the exploitation puzzle

In August 2019 we launched an appeal to support work in Brazil following devastating fires. Though the situation may have faded from media focus, colleagues, communities and allies are hard at work trying to stop further destruction. Find out how.
  Published:  29 Jan 2020    |      2 minute read

The recent pictures of Australia’s devastating wildfires have been both terrifying and all too familiar. Six months ago, parts of the Amazon rainforest were ravaged by record numbers of fires, with more than 80,000 detected in Brazil alone.

Fires burning in Amazon
Credit: Pedarilhos/Getty Images
Fires in the Amazon, 2019

While wildfires are not uncommon during the Amazonian dry season, the scale of the fires in 2019 was beyond anything seen before, and caused international concern. More concerning is that the increase in fires has largely been attributed to human causes – specifically the illegal burning and deforestation of rainforest to clear space for mining, logging, soy and cattle farming.

Arthur, from Friends of the Earth Brazil, says:

"None of this is new.  However, the scale of the fires reached new heights following [President] Bolsonaro's hate speech against rural and indigenous workers, the government's largely pro-ruralist policies, and the dismantling of environmental policies and enforcement agencies."

Bolsonaro's position has emboldened land-grabbers to invade public and indigenous land and claim them as farmland. It’s unclear exactly how many of these fires were started intentionally. What is clear is that any man-made fire is one too many.

The people who bear the brunt of this illegal and often violent activity are those living in rural and indigenous communities. It's no mistake that these groups are routinely denied a voice in the debate over the fate of the Brazilian Amazon.

Community impact

Back in August 2019, we launched a fundraising appeal to support work in the affected areas. 

Since the appeal, Arthur and the team in Brazil have been visiting communities in the states of Acre and Pará and listening to their concerns. They soon found out that fires were just part of the problem:

"[In Pará], the exploitation of the Amazon is evident: illegal loggers, soybeans, mining, ports, railways... in short, an enormous mechanism that does not take into account people and their cultures, instead causing pain and death."

Plan of action

But one clear way emerged in which Arthur and the team could be of help.

"Journalism in Brazil is pretty much concentrated in the hands of the powerful, and it is difficult to find space for the voices of communities. Going forward, we are planning to carry out communications training in the territories, so that communities can tell their stories, appeal to the wider Brazilian population and advocate for their land."

Conservation leaflet: "Don't give up your land! The land is our mother, our life and our fortune."
Conservation leaflet: "Don't give up your land! The land is our mother, our life, our fortune."

Collaboration – and understanding the challenges faced by the communities themselves – is at the heart of Friends of the Earth Brazil's strategy.

"It is extremely important, in our view, to strengthen the resistance that already exists in the Amazon. That is why we choose to act together with our allies (Terra de Direitos and MAB – Movement of People Affected by Dams), rather than working alone. We know there's no silver bullet solution, so our aim is to empower the organisations and people who dedicate their lives, on a daily basis and over the course of many years, to survival in and of the Amazon."

International solidarity

Climate breakdown knows no borders. While it may seem remote, what happens to the Amazon – and the communities it's home to – can and will have a global effect. It is crucial that we show solidarity.

We need to ensure the UK isn't supporting the destruction of our Earth’s natural resources, whether it's the Amazon rainforest or the Mozambican coastline, which is why we're ramping up our efforts to hold UK government to account on where taxpayer's money is being "invested". With your support, we'll keep fighting for climate justice at home and around the world.