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Amazon rainforest fires cannot be defined as natural

A fire burns a tract of the Amazon jungle in Agua Boa, Mato Grosso state, Brazil September 4, 2019. (Reuters Photo)

There are man-induced and natural fires in the Amazon rainforest but ongoing fires cannot be explained as natural, according to the head of a non-profit environmental group.

"Some 7,500 square kilometers (1.9 million acres) of forest were felled in 2018, and with the increases in 2019 the figure is likely to be 1.5 times or twice this at the end of the year," Henriette Walz, of Global Lead Deforestation of the Rainforest Alliance, told Anadolu Agency in an email.

The group works with business, agriculture and forests groups to create a better future for people and nature by making responsible business the new normal, according to its website.

Walz said although there have been natural fires in the Amazon in the past such as dry years of the El Nino, this year's fires cannot be seen as natural.

"The season of most fires and deforestation taking place is the dry season from June until September; June and July have seen increases of 60-90% in terms of the number of fires in 2019 compared to 2018. Between January and now 74,000 fires have been detected; this is the highest number since 2013," she said.

This type of deforestation is usually made for agricultural purposes by cutting and burning trees to gain organic, productive land, she said.

"Drivers of deforestation in the Amazon are complex. Reasons for deforestation in the Amazon include direct drivers, such as the illegal logging, clearing land for agriculture, and increased urban development," she said and indicated that emboldening conventional agriculture or development by international financial policies are also indirect drivers of deforestation.

In addition, she said the rainforest, which plays a crucial role in the fight against climate change, is also negatively affected by climate change.

"[President Jair] Bolsonaro has repeatedly stated that he aims at developing the Amazon region economically, and that he would like to start official mining activities in the Amazon region and indigenous communities," she said of the Brazilian leader's attitude that causes deforestation.

Rainforests becoming more vulnerable

Carbon emissions from deforestation is a significant driver of climate change, Executive Director of Amazon Watch Leila Salazar-Lopez, told Anadolu Agency.

Because of climate change, rainforests are becoming more vulnerable to fires and droughts which lead to more deforestation.

"The unprecedented fires ravaging the Amazon are an international tragedy and a dangerous contribution to climate chaos," said the top executive of the organization that works to protect rainforests and advance the rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin.

More than 2 million acres (800,000 hectares) have burned in the Amazon, significantly contributing to climate change "both from the carbon released by the forest fires and from the loss of the trees' ability to absorb carbon in the future," she said.

The "heart of the earth," or "lungs of the earth regulates regional and global climates, ocean currents as well as weather patterns.

"Hence, why protecting the Amazon is essential for protecting the climate, or at least, slowing/mitigating climate chaos," she said.

She offered that protecting rainforests and mitigating climate effects by defending indigenous peoples' rights is an important solution for growing climate threats.

"For thousands of years, the Amazon has been home to at least 400 distinct indigenous peoples from [eight] different South American countries whose lives are intrinsically connected to land, water and spirits for daily and cultural survival," said Salazar-Lopez, whose group partners with indigenous and environmental organizations for human rights, corporate accountability and the preservation of the Amazon's ecological systems.

On Sept. 5, the Global Day of Action for the Amazon will be observed which will be marked by many NGOs and globally with protests and demonstrations to raise awareness about the ongoing Amazon fires and Bolsonaro's attitudes towards the rainforest.

The Amazon is home to one-third of plant and animal species in the world and generates 20% of the Earth's fresh water. It also produces 20% of the Earth's oxygen, and as a vast carbon sink, absorbs more than 1 billion tons of atmospheric carbon which is emitted by the burning of fossil fuels annually.

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