Environment Stories Winner | The Straits Times


Nearly a third of Brazil’s Pantanal region – the world’s largest tropical wetland and flooded grasslands, sprawling across some 140,000 sq km to 160,000 sq km – was consumed by fires over the course of 2020.

According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, there were triple the number of fires in 2020 compared with 2019.

Fires in the Pantanal tend to burn just below the surface, fuelled by highly combustible peat, which means they burn for longer and are harder to extinguish.

The Pantanal, which is recognised by Unesco as a World Biosphere Reserve and is one of Brazil’s most important biomes, is suffering its worst drought in nearly 50 years, causing fires to spread out of control.

Many of the fires started from slash-and-burn farming, which has become more prevalent due to the weakening of conservation regulation and enforcement under President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration.

The Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources has seen its funding reduced by around 30 per cent.

Mr Bolsonaro has frequently spoken out against environmental protection measures, and has made repeated comments undermining Brazilian courts’ attempts to punish offenders.

Environmentalists say that this is encouraging agricultural burning and creating a climate of impunity.

Dr Luciana Leite, who studies humanity’s relationship with nature at the Federal University of Bahia, predicts the total collapse of the Pantanal, if current climate trends and anti-environmental policies persist.

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