From 2018 to 2019, deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest has nearly doubled, rising from 4,946 square kilometers to 9,167 square kilometers. And in the first three months of 2020 alone, deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest rose more than 50% compared to the same 3 month period last year.
Of course, illegal loggers, miners, and land grabbers deserve blame for it. But Brazil President Bolsonaro is complicit and arguably responsible. In 2019, he tried to stop the common practice of using fire to clear land when the forest fires got bad. But the rhetoric he used when running for president — that deforestation-related practices in the Amazon could help lift the region out of poverty — is making that an uphill battle.
Tribes face the consequences of Bolsonaro’s rhetoric
Bolsonaro’s rhetoric suggests that he’d allow for these commercial developments at the cost of indigenous people’s wellbeing. “The Indigenous person can’t remain in his land as if he were some prehistoric creature,” Bolsonaro said in February. “Where there is indigenous land, there is wealth underneath it.”
In Brazil, indigenous communities control over 12.5 percent of the land yet don’t generate revenue, a statistic commonly used to justify mining and large-scale farming in the Amazon. And since taking office in 2019, Bolsonaro acted on that ethos quickly.
First, he removed a system of protection for various indigenous communities that were protected by Brazil’s Constitution; then, he slashed funding for the National Indian Foundation. And it’s the tribes that reside in the vicinity of the Amazon Rainforest that has gotten the short end of the stick.
According to Laercio Guajajara, a member of the Guajajara tribe, “Our territory keeps being invaded by loggers and hunters,” he tells ABC News in an interview. And the invasions haven’t stopped during the pandemic, Guajajara adds.
In late-2019, Bolsonaro declared a 60-day ban on most burning activities to mitigate the Amazon forest fires, but the sentiment is still conflicting. “On the one hand, you give concrete incentives for deforestation, and even subsidize it,” says Raoni Rajão, a professor of environmental management at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.
“On the other, you fine people who get caught doing it. It creates a logic of outsmarting the system.”
Deforestation may lead to the emergence of dangerous diseases
As deforestation rates continue to skyrocket, scientists say it can lead to the emergence of dangerous diseases and viruses that our society will have little defense to, as shown by Covid-19.
“The Amazon region of Brazil, endemic for many communicable or zoonotic diseases can, after a wildfire, trigger a selection for survival, and with it change the habitat and behaviors of some animal species. These can be reservoirs of zoonotic bacteria, viruses, and parasites,” 13 researchers write in a 2019 study.
Historically, the Zika virus, which became a big problem for Indonesia in 1988, originated from fruit bats that were fleeing their homes in order to seek food at orchards. Then, pigs began to eat bats’ bitten leftovers, picking up and spreading the virus. If animal habitats are cleared, various wild vertebrates, including pathogenic rodents, bats, and primates, may move into closer contact with humans.
Kate Jones, Chair of Ecology and Biodiversity at the University College London, said at least 60 percent of the 335 new diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004 originated with non-human animals. After the Covid-19 pandemic, this brings into question how prepared our world will be for future unknown outbreaks.
Jalen Xing is a Writer at theRising and the co-founder of Students For Hospitals. You can pitch him stories at jalen.xing [at] gmail [dot] com.