The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. It covers 5.5 million square kilometres across the northern part of the South American continent. It is an ecological hotspot , which is now under severe threat by the raging forest fire.
Sanctuary of Biodiversity :
- The Amazon rainforest covers nearly 40 per cent of Latin America and spreads across nine countries : Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. This area is a protected zone and is a home to a biodiversity sanctuary that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
- The rainforest is home to almost a quarter of the Earth’s wildlife and plant species. It has 30,000 types of plants, 2,500 types of fish, 1,300 types of birds, 550 types of reptiles, 500 types of amphibians and 2.5 million types of insects. This kind of diversity is not found anywhere else in the world.
- There are more species being discovered every day. In the last 20 years, over 2,200 new species of animals and plants have been discovered in the amazon by scientists. 25 per cent of the world’s medicines come from medicinal plants in the Amazon and this is despite only one per cent of the species being examined for medicinal properties.
Lungs of the earth :
- These rainforests contribute to a third of the world’s total forests so it is natural that it produces a lot of oxygen as well. The Amazon river and its tributaries also provide the Earth with 20 per cent of the total unfrozen fresh water. This river has been discovered to be the world’s largest river and in 2007 it was said that it spans for over 2,700 kilometres.
- Due to its vastness, it acts as a sink for carbon dioxide. If the Amazon disappears, 90 to 140 billion tons of carbon dioxide will enter the Earth’s atmosphere. The carbon sinks, in turn, helps regulate global warming, reported the World Wildlife fund (WWF). Deforestation will greatly increase the amount of CO2 in the air, making it harder to breathe.
420 tribes :
- The Amazon is an ecological treasure not only for plants and animals, but of people as well. The forest has been home to millions of people for over 11,000 years. These forests are directly responsible, directly or indirectly, for the lives of 34 million people.
- The locals of the forest, known as ‘Indians’ belong to over 420 different tribes. Out of these 420,60 tribes live in total isolation. These Indians speak 86 languages and 650 dialects. The largest tribe is called Tikuna, and it consists of some 40,000 members. Survival International has reported that these tribes live in parts of Brazil, Peru and Columbia.
Manaus, the Amazon ‘capital’ :
- Manaus is a city discovered by the Portuguese in 1669 on the banks of the Rio Negro. It is considered as the capital of the Amazonas state and spans over a distance of 1.5 million square kilometres. Manaus has a population of 1.8 million.
- After the creation of the free trade zone in 1967, the city went into a major decline after its boom at the end of the 19th century when rubber trade started. The city now mainly lives off its industrial sector. It imports spare parts and exports end products, notably electronic equipment. After Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo,. Manaus is Brazil’s biggest economic hub.
Massive deforestation :
- In the last 50 years, the rainforest has fallen prey to mass deforestation and over 20 per cent of the forest has disappeared. According to the WWF, this massive deforestation is not stopping, but just accelerating.
- Despite the signs and dire warnings of the effects of global warming, the rate of deforestation has just increased 4 times since the start of the year. This has happened after Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro has taken charge in early 2019.
- Reports were released by INPE (National Institute of Space Research, Brazil), which tracks the cutting of trees in the Amazon. It shows that around 2,254 square kilometres of the forest was cleared in July, an increase of 278 per cent from a year ago.
- Construction of dams, soya farming and livestock farming are the main reasons for deforestation. The mining industry, infrastructural developments and forest fires are other reasons. Apart from being rich in biodiversity, it also has vast reserves of minerals such as gold, copper, tantalum, iron ore, nickel and manganese.
Current Situation :
- Now, the world is currently witnessing one of the worst ever forest fires – the Amazon is burning. It is said that these wildfires blazing in the Amazonian rainforest were set by cattle ranchers and loggers who desperately want to clear and utilise the land. It’s also being backed, according to media reports, by Brazil’s far-right president, Bolsonaro.
- A vast majority of the fires across the Amazon are an anthropogenic because of the invasion of its pristine lands. Wildfires were rare, even during the dry seasons. This is because the Amazon is a humid rainforest and is, to a certain degree, immune to accidental and minor blazes. This is further proof, then, that the current forest fire is manmade, artificially created to encroach upon what remains of some of the most fertile and productive lands on earth. In fact, farmers and ranchers often use fires to clear vast tracts of land and could be blamed for the unusually large number of blazes in the Amazon today.
- Unfortunately, this forest has been burning at a record rate, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, with more than 74,000 fires in Brazil alone this year, nearly double the total for 2018.
- According to the Brazilian space research centre (INPE) it is observed that the number of fires in August 2019 are 75% higher than compared to last year. And more than half of these are located in the Amazon region spelling huge disaster to the pristine ecological systems across the region. It is also studied that nearly 95% percent of the fires are due to human actions which could either be on purpose or by accident.
- The areas burnt in these rainforests can range from a small-scale agricultural patch to a large area to accommodate mechanized and modern agri-business projects and schemes.
- Although difficult to quantify precisely, scientists estimate that wildfires have been emitting nearly 8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year for the last three decades. A study by the International Energy Agency says that in 2017-18 alone, the global carbon emissions almost crossed 34 billion tons due to various anthropogenic activities.
- The loss of more forest area could have a disastrous and a long lasting effect in many ways. The trees that help pump water from the soil into the atmosphere, carrying much-needed rainfall to other areas will be affected, which will in turn severely affect the global climatic conditions. These fires will also reduce the resilience of the Amazon forest to future droughts and climate change when, in fact, these forests actually mitigate and reduce the same threats.
The same is the case with our own Western Ghats North-Eastern Himalayan forests, which are equally, if not more important than the Amazon rainforests.