Saturday, March 25, 2023
HomeOpinionThe Amazon consumed by fire and mining seen from above

The Amazon consumed by fire and mining seen from above


- Advertisement -

It is the first time that Auricélia Fonseca Arapium will see from above the land where she was born and had her four children, in the lower Tapajós, west of the state of Pará. There will be a six-hour flight over this region where the river meets the waters of the Amazon and cuts through conservation units created to keep large portions of the Amazon rainforest intact.

This morning, at the end of August, a kind of fog caused by smoke from the fires crosses the path of the plane. Fires are everywhere and were, in almost 100% of cases, started by those who deforested the area.

- Advertisement -

Some of the points seen by Auricélia, who coordinates the Tapajós Arapiuns Indigenous Council (Cita), were being destroyed by fire for more than a week. Although all had been identified by the satellite alert system of the National Institute for Space Research (Inpe), there was no sign of fighting the flames in the field. In this dry season in the Amazon, which lasts until October, the fire should spread beyond the remains of the felled forest and end up with healthy trees.

It’s not just the image of the large clearings in the middle of the forest that makes Auricélia’s eyes fill with tears. As the plane moves away from Santarém, from where it took off, the large brown holes that appear on the horizon cause commotion. They are open mines with heavy machinery, which look like great roads forged on the green.

- Advertisement -

“It’s a crime against humanity, it’s not just an environmental crime. They’re killing the Amazon”, says Auricélia to DW Brasil, who accompanied the flyover at the invitation of Instituto Climainfo.

“It was very impactful and I get very emotional. We know what a living territory means, a living river. I am a mother. What will become of our future?”, she asks about the impacts of the destruction she had just witnessed, unable to stop crying.

‘Our mother earth is asking for help’

In August 2022, the worst August for fires in the Amazon in the last 12 years, Pará was the state that led this ranking. He is also a consolidated champion in deforestation, according to Inpe data.

Among the most destroyed areas are the Tapajós Environmental Protection Area (APA) and the Jamanxim National Forest, conservation units included in the overflight route. From afar, a giant mushroom of smoke coming out of the APA attracted the attention of passengers. After flying over the site twice, the pilot preferred to change direction, for fear of the reaction of the men who observed the movement in the heights from the terrain.

“In the past, it was more difficult to get to places like this. Today, there are already many roads opened clandestinely by loggers, miners, which facilitates access. But these people usually respect those who pass through here by plane and helicopter”, replied the pilot. to the questioning of the report after informing that he would not cross the burning place again.

Many of these clandestine routes are within the Munduruku Indigenous Land (TI). The invasion of miners repeatedly denounced by leaders is blatant from above: mining areas have an airstrip, encampment and machinery.

Daniel Munduruku, who tries to record everything he sees on his cell phone, is also on this flyover. The territory that his family inhabits, Sawré Muybu, is in a part of the state that has been recognized by the Union, but not yet officially demarcated. In 2016, DW Brasil was in the region to monitor the process of self-demarcation carried out by the indigenous people — and mining was not as big as it has been in the last four years.

Almost no one of the Munduruku people escapes contamination caused by mercury, used in gold mining. Studies carried out by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) and the Federal University of Western Pará (Ufopa) show that 99% of the evaluated indigenous people have mercury levels above safe limits. About 73% of them report symptoms of contamination, most of them of neurological origin. Due to the worrying data, the Federal Public Ministry is now trying to create a discussion forum on contamination in the Tapajós River.

“We bleed too. Our mother earth is asking for help, and we, especially as indigenous women, bring us this responsibility a lot”, says Auricélia when describing what she feels in this scenario.

Profound impacts of mining

From Santarém, Paulo Barreto, a researcher at the Institute of Man and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon), has been studying the scenario that drives the destruction of the forest for decades.

“A large part of deforestation is associated with agriculture, especially for the planting of pastures. Deforestation associated with mining is much smaller in area, but its impacts are deep in the soil and wide in the aquatic systems”, says Barreto to DW Brasil.

When done in the earth, digging for gold turns over the soil and subsoil layers. The mercury used in the process contaminates the sludge, which runs down small waterways to large rivers. This pollution is ingested by fish and by people who eat them, such as the indigenous populations of the region.

An analysis done by EOS Data Analytics especially for this report identified signs of imbalance observed by satellites. Using the Normalized Difference Chlorophyll Index, the platform detected vegetation on the water surface in a low-flow location on the Tapajós River.

“A ‘bloom’ is observed, ie algae that grow near rocks and are often harmful to river dwellers and ecosystems in general,” says the report that analyzed TI Munduruku.

Another example shows a mining area active since 2017, which, while not increasing in size, has achieved more destruction. “You can see how areas without vegetation have increased after washing the soil, even without the construction of new mines. As a result, vegetation has decreased by 50 hectares,” the analysis points out.

‘Terror’ under Bolsonaro and the effect of the election

In the Amazon, two major vectors continue to fuel deforestation. The first of them, points out Paulo Barreto, is the weakening of control policies and the incentives given to the occupation and exploitation of natural resources “with promises of legal changes to regularize illegal activities such as land grabbing and mining, including in indigenous lands”.

The rise in agricultural commodity prices and gold is seen as the second vector. “This encourages a race to acquire land — including land grabbing — and mining”, quotes Barreto.

In a presidential election year, the trend is for the devastation to get worse. “Politicians avoid monitoring and losing support from local businessmen and politicians. In this election, data indicate a worsening of this trend, as the current government has promoted deforestation while several candidates have promised to return to inspection”, comments Barreto.

Deforesters seem to want to take advantage of the rest of the term of President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for reelection, to deforest as much as possible, points out the Imazon researcher. “Even if policies change in the future, they will push to keep what has been deforested, including pardons for environmental and land crimes.”

Auricélia Fonseca Arapium also attributes to the current government the intensification of invasions of protected areas in the Amazon. “The government incites this. It incites this violence all the time. These are very difficult moments in the last four years, they are moments of terror”, she points out.

Despite the shock and sadness of watching the destruction from above, added to the fear of the constant threats she receives, Auricélia says she believes she is on the right path. “I leave this flyover with much more courage to continue. We have to continue denouncing what they are doing to our territories, to our lives, to our future”, she defends.

“The Amazon is rich and we live in this wealth. We want it to continue so that humanity can also continue”, he says.

- Advertisement -

Related articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected


Latest posts