Pope Francis voices concern for Amazon rainforest fires

Monday, August 26th, 2019 00:00 |
A labourer stares at a fire that spread to a farm he works on in Nova Santa Helena, south of the Amazon, Brazil. Photo/AFP

Vatican City, Sunday

Pope Francis on Sunday voiced concern for the Amazon rainforest, a “vital” lung for the planet, as the worst blazes in years have sparked a global outcry.

“We are concerned about the vast fires that have developed in the Amazon,” the pope told the faithful at the Vatican.

“That forest lung is vital for our planet.”

He urged the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics to pray for the fires to be extinguished as quickly as possible.

Official figures show 78,383 forest fires have been recorded in Brazil this year, the highest number of any year since 2013.

The Pope, who will gather bishops for a conference on the Amazon in October, met Brazilian indigenous leader Raoni in 2013 when he toured Europe warning of the dangers of deforestation.

He denounced the exploitation of the Amazon by “huge international economic interests” in a 2015 encyclical.

In January 2018, he visited Puerto Maldonado village in the Amazonian jungle of southeastern Peru where thousands of tribes-people had gathered, including from neighbouring Brazil and Bolivia.

The Catholic church acknowledges the bloody history of the spread of Christianity through South America and that it has not always respected Amazon tribes. Today it is committed to numerous projects to support indigenous populations.

Meanwhile, the record number of fires in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has coincided with a sharp drop in fines for environmental violations, BBC analysis has found.

Official data from Brazil’s environment agency shows fines from January to 23 August dropped almost a third compared with the same period last year. At the same time, the number of fires burning in Brazil has increased by 84 per cent.

It is not known how many of the fires have been set deliberately, but critics have accused President Jair Bolsonaro’s regime of “green lighting” the destruction of the rainforest through a culture of impunity.

Spike in deforestation

Bolsonaro has sent in the military to help put out the fires after coming under pressure from the international community, saying he wanted to “help protect” the Amazon.

The largest rainforest in the world, the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. It is known as the “lungs of the world” and is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people.

The decline in the number of environmental fines at a time when Brazil has seen a spike in deforestation does not seem a coincidence to many.

During last year’s presidential race, Mr Bolsonaro vowed to open up the Amazon for commercial activity. When he was sworn in, he stayed true to his word. -BBC 

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