AP Explains: The causes and risks of the Amazon fires

ABC News | 8/23/2019 | Staff
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Fires have been breaking out at an unusual pace in Brazil this year, causing global alarm over deforestation in the Amazon region. The world's largest rainforest is often called the "lungs of the earth." Here's a look at what's happening:

WHAT'S BURNING?

Brazil - National - Space - Research - Institute

Brazil's National Space Research Institute, which monitors deforestation, has recorded 76,720 wildfires across the country this year, as of Thursday. That's an 85% rise over last year's figure. And a little over half of those, 40341, have been spotted in the Amazon region.

The agency says it doesn't have figures for the area burned, but deforestation as a whole has accelerated in the Amazon this year. The institute's preliminary figures show 3,571 square miles (9,250 square kilometers) of forest — an area about the size of Yellowstone National Park — were lost between Jan. 1 and Aug. 1. That already outstrips the full-year figure for 2018 of 2,910 square miles (7,537 square kilometers).

Stricter - Enforcement - Laws - Rate - Deforestation

Stricter enforcement of environmental laws between 2004 and 2014 had sharply curbed the rate of deforestation, which peaked in the early 2000s at about 9,650 square miles a year (25,000 square kilometers).

Meanwhile, large fires also have been burning in neighboring countries such as Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina.

THE - FIRES

WHAT'S CAUSING THE FIRES?

Paulo Moutinho, co-founder of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, said this week that "it is very difficult to have natural fires in the Amazon; it happens but the majority come from the hand of humans."

Moutinho - Amazon - Forests - Years - Fires

Moutinho, who has been working in the Amazon forests for nearly 30 years, said fires are mostly set to clear land for farming, ranching or logging, and they can easily get out of control, especially during the July-November dry season. Moutinho says this year hasn't been especially dry. "We're lucky. If we had had droughts like in the past four years, this would be even worse."

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