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During Covid-19, deforestation rises and the Amazon is left exposed

. Apr 15, 2020
During Covid-19, deforestation rises and the Amazon is left exposed Deforested area in the Amazon rainforest. Photo: Ibama

In mid-2019, the Amazon rainforest made the front page of newspapers all over the world amid a huge uptick in deliberate fires to clear forest areas for pasture, farming, and mining activities. Now, with Brazil’s eyes fixed firmly on the health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, deforestation in the region is building once more, with official data showing alerts for forest clearing increasing 29.9 percent in March.

Though social isolation measures and a slowing economy were suspected to reduce deforestation in Brazil’s North, remote parts of the region have not adhered to containment policies and there is a belief that reduced oversight has opened an opportunity for loggers and land grabbers.

According to

the Deter real-time monitoring system maintained by the Brazilian Institute of Space Research (Inpe), 326.51 square kilometers of forest were cut down in March alone, in comparison to 251.3 sq km for the same period last year.</p> <p>Deforestation has been on a <a href="https://brazilian.report/environment/2019/11/19/driving-brazil-amazon-deforestation-rates-up/">consistent rise</a> since President Jair Bolsonaro came into government, with the head of state <a href="https://brazilian.report/environment/2019/12/18/bolsonaro-year-1-brazil-becomes-environment-bogeyman/">relaxing environmental oversight</a>, gutting protection agencies, and insisting that Brazil must exploit its &#8220;mineral riches&#8221; in the Amazon Basin.&nbsp;</p> <h2>Don&#8217;t get in our way</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/operacao_floresta_de_araucaria-1024x683.jpg" alt="ibama deforestation amazon" class="wp-image-36035" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/operacao_floresta_de_araucaria-1024x683.jpg 1024w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/operacao_floresta_de_araucaria-300x200.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/operacao_floresta_de_araucaria-768x512.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/operacao_floresta_de_araucaria-610x407.jpg 610w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/operacao_floresta_de_araucaria.jpg 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Photo of the successful operation that cost Ibama&#8217;s head his job. Photo: Ibama</figcaption></figure> <p>On Tuesday, a board member from Brazil&#8217;s Environmental Protection Agency (Ibama) was fired after leading a &#8220;mega-operation&#8221; to expel invaders in three indigenous lands in the northern state of Pará, where 122 square kilometers of forest were cut down in March alone.</p> <p>Olivaldi Borges Azevedo coordinated Ibama teams in the region to seek out and reprimand groups of <a href="https://brazilian.report/environment/2019/09/17/violence-corruption-amazon-deforestation/">wildcat miners, loggers, and poachers</a> in rural Pará, with the declared goal of stopping these invaders from reaching indigenous lands and spreading coronavirus.</p> <p><a href="https://g1.globo.com/fantastico/noticia/2020/04/12/covid-19-chega-as-aldeias-e-operacao-tenta-barrar-novas-invasoes-de-terras-indigenas.ghtml">Footage from the operation</a> was shown on TV Globo&#8217;s weekly magazine show &#8220;Fantástico&#8221; on Sunday night, which included Ibama inspectors torching machinery belonging to the illegal invaders and reportedly upset the federal government.</p> <p>One of the trespassers spoke to the TV Globo reporting team and claimed they felt empowered by the federal government&#8217;s discourse of &#8220;reducing indigenous lands by five percent.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;We hope the government eventually legalizes the [gold miners] in this area, but until then, we&#8217;re occupying here,&#8221; said Arilson Brandão.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/1945259" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/1945259/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>Covid-19 in the Amazon</h2> <p>The threat of spreading the Covid-19 contagion to indigenous communities in the Amazon and elsewhere is very real. As reported by <em>UOL</em>&#8216;s Rubens Valente, the Ministry of Health say &#8220;<a href="https://noticias.uol.com.br/colunas/rubens-valente/2020/04/08/coronavirus-saude-indigena.htm">the chance of a tragedy is large</a>&#8221; if the virus were to spread around indigenous villages. Robson Silva, the special indigenous health secretary of the Health Ministry, stressed that his team is doing everything it can to stop the disease from reaching the country&#8217;s traditional communities.</p> <p><a href="https://brazilian.report/environment/2020/03/27/indigenous-communities-at-risk-of-genocide-with-covid-19-outbreak/">Indigenous villages are at a significant threat to Covid-19</a>, as their precarious health infrastructure and communal living arrangements would allow the virus to propagate at an alarming rate, with respiratory diseases such as Covid-19 being responsible for a large part of the health crises that have plagued these communities in the past.</p> <p>The government has announced emergency funds to relevant agencies to help protect traditional communities from the Covid-19 pandemic, but of the BRL 10.84 million destined to the Indigenous Affairs Agency (Funai) two weeks ago, <a href="https://saude.estadao.com.br/noticias/geral,funai-recebe-r-11-milhoes-para-proteger-indigenas-do-coronavirus-mas-nao-gastou-nenhum-centavo,70003269873">nothing has been spent</a>, according to newspaper <em>Estadão.</em></p> <p>Indigenous activists heard by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> say that Funai has suspended all of its projects and programs in indigenous villages, and imposed a strict ban on all non-indigenous people from entering protected traditional territories. However, by cutting back protection and oversight measures, it has now become easier for trespassers to circumvent barriers and Funai controls.</p> <p>So far, there have been at least nine confirmed cases and three Covid-19 deaths among Brazil&#8217;s indigenous communities.

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Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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