Fires Devour Brazil’s Indigenous Lands Amid Cuts

In Brazil, in September alone, there were 164 outbreaks of fires that advanced on indigenous lands in the Pantanal region, the largest alluvial plain on the planet. In August, there were more than 200. Almost half of the indigenous areas of the region regularized Before the State they have already suffered fires that have surrounded villages, destroyed houses and crops and caused hospitalizations of people due to respiratory problems.

The conclusions are the result of an investigation by the Public Agency based on data taken by satellite from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE). The investigation has analyzed all the fire sources registered in the Pantanal in 2020 and has concluded that the number of fires began to increase at the end of July, but reached the peak in August and September: 72% of the fire sources of this year occurred only in those two months.

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The data also reveal that, in some of the places that suffered the most, outbreaks of fires arose and spread first to private properties and then to indigenous lands. In addition, part of the fires started in areas of legal reserve and native forest owned by landowners. Both typologies are protected by law and must be preserved.

In total, Agência Pública has found sources of fire in five regularized indigenous territories in the municipalities of the Pantanal – there are 11 throughout the region. The indigenous area with the most fire sources is also the largest, the Kadiwéu indigenous land. In this area, 176 outbreaks have occurred since May of this year and the majority occurred in August.

In addition, throughout the Pantanal there are fire records in three state parks, one national park, one environmental protection area, two private reserves, and one ecological station.

All municipalities in the Pantanal region recorded fires between July and September. Poconé and Barão de Melgaço, in Mato Grosso, were the ones that registered the highest number. The Encontro das Águas State Park is located in these two municipalities.

“The fire started outside the indigenous lands. When it arrived, it arrived with everything, it entered suddenly,” says indigenous educator Estêvão Bororo, known as Estevinho and present in the territory Tereza Cristina, of the Bororo people. “The land is divided by the San Lorenzo River: the left bank of the river caught fire, surrounded two towns and burned a bridge. Then, the fire advanced towards the Córrego Grande village, which was the most impacted. It arrived with everything, even surrounded The houses. Despite not setting the houses on fire, our leader had to go to the municipality of Rondonópolis because he had inhaled a lot of smoke. We have the elderly, pregnant women, newly born women and children. “

The situation is also serious in Baía dos Guató, land of the Guató people, in the municipality of Barão de Melgaço. INPE data registered 57 fires in this area in September and 85 in August. Almost the entire extension of the territory has suffered fires.

“The fires destroyed gardens, burned houses, destroyed a large part of our territory, many trees, animals, birds, damaged our fauna and flora and our food security. We are very concerned about our forests because we take our livelihood from them, our traditional medicines. With the fires, all of this has been compromised. We no longer find many of the herbs that we use to treat illnesses and we do not find the acuri palm, which we use to cover traditional houses and some utensils, and to make chicha, a traditional drink. being razed, “says Alessandra Guató.

The land of the Guató is located near the Encontro das Águas State Park, one of the largest jaguar refuges in the world, which has also been affected by fires: there were 456 fires in August and September alone. According to a report by G1, the fires destroyed 85% of the park area.

The territory of the Guató is an example of how fires can start on private properties and then reach indigenous lands and protected areas. At the beginning of August, there were hardly any fires in the north of the land of Guató. As the days passed, fires began to register in areas of legal reserves and forests within private properties north of the indigenous area. Then there were fires within the indigenous lands. At the end of August there were already outbreaks in almost the entire indigenous territory and 36 were registered in just one day.

Agência Pública has spoken with an agent from PrevFogo, from the National System for the Prevention and Fight of Forest Fires, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals. According to this worker, the meteorological monitoring already pointed to the intensification of the fires in 2020, with temperatures above and rains below the average.

According to him, the agency’s strategic planning included anticipating the hiring of brigade members to work on fire prevention. However, the contract announcement, which is usually published in mid-April, was not opened until June 23.

For the worker, the delay in hiring has hindered the agency’s preventive actions. “We believe that this has seriously affected our work. Our forecast was to work on prevention in June so that people could have a better season than the one we are having,” he reports.

On August 20, President Jair Bolsonaro admitted in a statement that the situation is serious, but argued that the difficulties imposed by the size of the region and “ideological issues”, such as the ban on loose cattle, have worsened the outlook. “We do what we can, but the opposition will continue to blame me for the fire in the Amazon and the Pantanal. As if this region had never caught fire.” On September 15, the Minister of the Environment, Ricardo Salles, said that the fire in the Pantanal “assumed gigantic proportions.”

In addition to being affected by the fire that is advancing in Pantanal, the indigenous people are part of the force that tries to prevent the destruction of their territories. According to the latest decree of the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) for the brigades in Mato Grosso do Sul, of the five brigades in the state, four are indigenous.

For Eliane Bakairi, from the Federation of Indigenous Peoples of Mato Grosso (FEPOIMT), the number of brigades is insufficient, especially in the most affected territories, such as Baía dos Guató and Perigara, in Barão de Melgaço. Also, she says budget cuts at PrevFogo are hurting work.

The brigades are part of IBAMA’s PrevFogo Federal Brigades Program, which is in charge of controlling, preventing and fighting forest fires. However, according to information from Deutsche Welle, between 2019 and 2020 the federal government reduced the center’s budget by 58%, a cut of 13,790,000 reais (2,000,000 euros), which negatively affected the hiring of brigade members to prevent and control fires forestry.

With the Bolsonaro government, IBAMA has imposed fewer fines throughout Brazil and the situation also extends to the Pantanal. According to data collected by Agência Pública, in the first year of the presidential term, the amount of fines related to flora in the Pantanal was reduced by 71%, compared to the previous year. Fines in this category include deforestation violations and illegal fires, for example.

The reduction was maintained in 2020. At the end of August, 21 fines were registered in the municipalities of the Pantanal, the lowest number of fines in the decade, comparing the same months. In the previous year, that number more than doubled, with 54 fines imposed in the region between January and August 2019.

Of the 16 municipalities that are part of the Pantanal, 10 had fewer fines in 2019 compared to 2018. Among them is Corumbá, the city with the highest number of fires registered this season and where a possible criminal initiation of the fires in Mato Grosso do Sul.

“People end up feeling free to commit environmental crimes and this has been reinforced by the president himself,” denounces an IBAMA brigadista who prefers not to reveal his name. According to him, the agency has had difficulty seizing property and destroying machinery used in environmental violations, compromising the investigation.

In August, Agência Pública revealed a similar situation in the Amazon, where fines decreased in regions with higher deforestation. IBAMA and the National Indian Foundation (Funai) have not made statements for this information.

This article was originally published by Public agency

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