While the limelight continues to shine on the Covid-19 pandemic, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest quietly continues to soar. The area of deforestation destroyed in the Brazilian Amazon in April 2020 was 64 percent higher than in April 2019, according to official government data from Brazil's National Space Research Institute (INPE), which uses satellites to track deforestation.
INPE’s deforestation monitoring system, DETER, documented 1,202 square kilometers (464 square miles) of forest that was slashed, burned, and chopped down in the Brazilian Amazon from January 1 to April 30, 2020, a 55 percent increase from the same period last year, according to Reuters.
The surge of deforestation is relatively in line with the increasing rates of deforestation documented across the previous few years. However, some were hoping rates of deforestation might lessen due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting global economic downturn. In reality, it looks like the opposite has happened. With fewer environmental agents patrolling the rainforests and more economic hardship in rural areas, the ongoing outbreak has only fanned the flames of illegal land clearing.
"Government agencies are in quarantine, the population is in quarantine, good people are in quarantine – but the criminals are not, so they are taking advantage of this momentum to increase their activity," André Guimarães, the head of Amazon Environmental Research Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the conservation of the rainforest, told NBC News.
Some of the steepest increases in deforestation occurred in the Brazilian Amazon between 1991 and 2003. While rates of rainforest destruction are currently not near record levels in the early 2000s, the past few years have seen another resurgence of land clearing. Driven by increasing global demand for commodities like beef, soy, and palm oil, much of deforestation has been carried out illegally to clear land for logging, mining, and ranching.
Many environmentalists have squarely pinned the blame of recently increased deforestation on the populist administration of President Jair Bolsonaro, whose “pro-business, pro-Brazil” policies have consistently weakened environmental protections and emboldened illegal loggers, miners, and ranchers in an attempt to bring economic prosperity to the nation.
This week, Bolsonaro authorized the armed forces to enter the Amazon region to quell fires and logging in preparation for the dry season, which will begin around June. Despite these measures, environmentalists are skeptical it will solve the larger problem at hand.
"Unfortunately, it looks like what we can expect for this year are more record-breaking fires and deforestation," Romulo Batista, Greenpeace campaigner in Brazil, said in a statement.