President Jair Bolsonaro ordered military personal to tackle Brazil's wildfires over the weekend, after receiving widespread condemnation for his turn-a-blind-eye-and-ignore-it approach.
Bolsonaro had previously responded to reports of a curiously high wildfire count, saying "I used to be called Captain Chainsaw. Now I am Nero, setting the Amazon aflame. But it is the season of the queimada" – queimada being the practice of farmers burning land to clear the way for planting.
Over the weekend, Bolsonaro authorized the use of troops to fight fires affecting seven states, including Rondonia where two C-130 Hercules aircrafts have been dumping thousands of liters of water over the forest canopy to quell the blaze. Regional governors will now be able to request "preventative action" against environmental crimes and deploy soldiers to deal with fire outbreaks, the BBC reports.
In addition to sending 700 military personnel to fight the fires, up to 28 billion Brazilian reais ($6.8 billion) would be put towards the cause, Brazil's Defense Minister, Fernando Azevedo e Silva, said in a Saturday press conference. According to Time, some 44,000 troops will be made available for the task.
This news comes in the wake of data collected by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), which revealed the highest number of wildfires in the Amazon per year – now totaling more than 39,000 – since tracking began in 2013. Earlier this month, NASA reported the overall fire frequency across the Amazon was near the 15-year average but has since published an update saying new satellite data show 2019 is the most active fire year in the region since 2010.
According to Douglas Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, August 2019 stands out because of a sizable increase in "large, intense, and persistent fires" along major roads. The timing and location of wildfire outbreaks are more in line with land clearing than drought-related causes.
"I've learned as a military man to love the Amazon forest and I want to help protect it," Bolsonaro said in this weekend's broadcast – words that seem to stand in stark contrast to his actions, which have seen deforestation rates jump since his ascension to the presidency in January 2019. July, for example, saw a 278 percent year-on-year increase.
Though rates started rising before Bolsonaro took office and deforestation has not reached the scale of 2004, environmental groups are seriously concerned by the rapidity of the recent increases and Bolsonaro's deliberately lax attitude towards the Amazon at the behest of industry interests. The president has loosened red tape around environmental regulations and slashed the budget of Brazil's primary environmental agency by 24 percent. Unsurprisingly, enforcement actions have dropped as a result.
In response to the wildfires, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted "our house is burning". He has been a strong force (along with the Chilean president Sebastián Piñera) in delivering a $20 million aid package intended to help Amazon countries cope with the wildfires at this year's G7 summit.
Previously, both Ireland and France have said they would not ratify a trade deal with South American countries, while Germany and Norway decided to pull funding out of the Amazon Fund – the two countries have contributed $68 million and $1.2 billion to the fund respectively. Meanwhile, protestors at home and abroad have demanded government action against the wildfires.