The government of Bolivia has declared a state of disaster due to wildfires which have ravaged the east of the country. The announcement was made by President Jeanine Áñez on Thursday.
According to the country’s authorities, more than 50 active forest fires have been reported. Many of the surrounding areas which have not experienced any forest fires are also prone to heavy smoke and possible spot fires. This is because the effects of a recent drought as well as local farmers’ use of fire to clear farmland have exacerbated the severity of the wildfires and their consequences.
The majority of the fires have been in the department of Santa Cruz which shares a border with Brazil. The Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, located in the department, has also been affected.
During a press conference, Áñez said, “We are declaring a national disaster due to drought and fires.”
“We are facing a serious threat and we do not want what happened last year to happen again,” Áñez added, referencing the six million hectares of the Bolivian Amazon which wildfires destroyed in 2019.
Bolivia’s 2019 Wildfires
The 2019 wildfires caused the government of Bolivia to receive a great deal of criticism from the international community. This was because of the perceived inadequacy of its response.
Several environmental activists and environmental groups have blamed former President Evo Morales for the wildfires. When Morales had been in office, he was in favour of burning forests in order to expand land area to be used for agricultural production. Morales’ government took the position that dry weather and winds were the main culprits. The government did not blame people who deliberately started fires in the forests.
Defense Minister Fernando López noted that ongoing fire-fighting efforts in the country were insufficient in keeping the wildfires under control. “The fires are advancing, and due to winds and high temperatures there is no other way to face this crisis,” he said. López also mentioned that over 600 families have suffered in some way due to the wildfires. However, López also said that up to this point, there were no fatalities.
Bolivia’s Current Wildfires
The current spate of wildfires in Bolivian rainforests such as the Amazon and the Gran Chaco have, as López mentioned, been strengthened by strong winds in the region. Temperatures in the affected area have risen as high as 45 degrees Celsius.
Forests cover over 508,000 square kilometres of Bolivia’s land area. This figure equates to almost half of the country’s area.
Bolivia is not the only country in South America which is currently experiencing widespread forest wildfires. The same is happening in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. In all four countries, the wildfires are the most destructive environmental crisis which has ever occurred.
9th October 2020 17:27
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