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Forest Fires in Brazil’s Amazon Rainforest

Context:

Recently, Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has experienced its largest forest fires on record in the first four months of 2024. These fires have been fueled by a record drought in the Amazon region, driven by the El Nino climate phenomenon and global warming, leading to extremely dry conditions.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Facts About the Amazon Rainforests
  2. Causes of Amazon Forest Fires
  3. Advantages of forest fires
  4. Disadvantages of forest fires
  5. Forest Fire Vulnerability in India
  6. Ways to mitigate the risk of forest fires

Key Facts About the Amazon Rainforests

Geographical Span:

  • The Amazon rainforests span across 8 countries, covering an area twice the size of India.
  • These rainforests occupy about 40% of Brazil’s total area, bounded by the Guiana Highlands to the north, the Andes Mountains to the west, the Brazilian central plateau to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.

Characteristics:

  • They are large tropical rainforests covering the drainage basin of the Amazon River and its tributaries in northern South America, encompassing an area of 6,000,000 square km.
  • The region is very wet, receiving more than 200 cm of rainfall annually, either seasonally or throughout the year.
  • Temperatures are uniformly high, ranging between 20°C and 35°C.

Global Distribution:

  • Similar tropical rainforests are found in Asia, Australia, Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico, and many Pacific Islands.

Biodiversity and Cultural Significance:

  • These rainforests are home to more than 400 different indigenous groups, with around 300 indigenous languages spoken, highlighting significant cultural and linguistic diversity.
  • Despite covering only about 1% of the Earth’s surface, the Amazon rainforest is home to 10% of all wildlife species on Earth.

Environmental Importance:

  • The Amazon rainforest plays a crucial role in curbing global warming by absorbing vast amounts of greenhouse gases.

Causes of Amazon Forest Fires

Human Activities:
  • Slash-and-Burn Techniques: Farmers and ranchers use slash-and-burn methods to clear land for cattle grazing or agriculture. After cutting down trees, they intentionally set fires to remove remaining vegetation and prepare the land, which can spread uncontrollably during dry seasons.
Natural and Climatic Factors:
  • El Nino Events: Research indicates a connection between El Nino events (periods of warmer Pacific Ocean temperatures) and increased fire activity in the Amazon. The peak fire season often coincides with El Nino events, such as the severe fires in 2019 and 2023 linked to El Nino-related droughts.
  • Climate Change: Rising global temperatures and altered weather patterns due to climate change increase the risk of fires in the Amazon by creating drier conditions.
Accidental Causes:
  • Ignitions: Accidental ignitions from discarded cigarettes, sparks from machinery, or lightning strikes also contribute to forest fires.
Economic Factors:
  • Global Demand for Food: Increasing global demand for food, particularly meat, has led to Brazil becoming the world’s largest beef exporter and the second-largest exporter of soybeans, mainly used for livestock feed. This demand drives further deforestation to meet export needs, increasing the risk of fires.

Advantages of forest fires:

  • Some species of trees and plants have adapted to thrive in the aftermath of fires. For example, some pine trees rely on fires to open their cones and release seeds.
  • Forest fires can help to clear out dead wood, brush, and other debris, reducing the risk of future fires.
  • Fires can help to promote new growth and biodiversity by creating openings in the forest canopy that allow sunlight to reach the forest floor, stimulating the growth of new vegetation.

Disadvantages of forest fires:

  • Forest fires can destroy habitats and negatively impact biodiversity by killing animals and plants that are unable to escape the flames.
  • Smoke from fires can cause respiratory problems and other health issues for humans and animals.
  • Forest fires can damage or destroy homes, buildings, and other infrastructure, and can pose a significant threat to human safety.
  • The release of large amounts of greenhouse gases during forest fires can contribute to climate change.
India’s Initiatives to Tackle Forest Fires
  • National Action Plan on Forest Fires (NAPFF) was launched in 2018 to minimise forest fires by informing, enabling and empowering forest fringe communities and incentivising them to work with the State Forest Departments.
  • The Forest Fire Prevention and Management Scheme (FPM) is the only centrally funded program specifically dedicated to assist the states in dealing with forest fires.

Forest Fire Vulnerability in India

  • Forest fire season in India is from November to June
  • Council of Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) report notes a tenfold increase in forest fires over the past two decades in India
  • More than 62% of Indian states are prone to high-intensity forest fires according to CEEW report
  • Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Telangana, and Northeastern states are most prone to forest fires
  • Mizoram has the highest incidence of forest fires over the last two decades with 95% of its districts as forest fire hotspots
  • ISFR 2021 estimates over 36% of the country’s forest cover is prone to frequent forest fires, 6% is ‘very highly’ fire-prone, and almost 4% is ‘extremely’ prone
  • An FSI study found nearly 10.66% area under forests in India is ‘extremely’ to ‘very highly’ fire-prone.

Ways to mitigate the risk of forest fires:

  • Prevention: One of the most effective ways to mitigate forest fires is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. This can be done by creating fire breaks, clearing debris, and reducing the amount of flammable material in the forest.
  • Early Detection: Early detection of forest fires can help prevent them from spreading and causing more damage. This can be done by installing fire detection systems, using drones or satellite imagery, and training local communities to report fires quickly.
  • Fire Suppression: Fire suppression is a critical component of forest fire mitigation. This involves using firefighting equipment such as helicopters, water tanks, and fire retardants to put out fires.
  • Forest Management: Proper forest management practices can also help mitigate the risk of forest fires. This includes thinning out dense forests, creating fire-resistant vegetation, and reducing the amount of deadwood and other flammable materials in the forest.
  • Community Education: Educating local communities on the risks of forest fires and how to prevent them can also be effective in mitigating the risk of forest fires. This includes providing information on safe campfire practices, prohibiting the use of fireworks in fire-prone areas, and encouraging the use of fire-resistant building materials in areas at high risk of forest fires.

-Source: The Hindu


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