Brazil/Amazonia– Deep in the Brazilian Amazon indigenous people have been protecting their reserve from illegal loggers, writes Luana Lila. The loggers took their revenge by kindling one of the Amazon’s biggest fires ever, destroying almost 200,000 hectares of rainforest.
It wasn’t until government inspectors who worked in fire fighting were attacked by an armed group within Arariboia Indigenous Land the government began taking Guajajara requests for help more seriously.
In just two months, fire has consumed over 45% of the Amazon rainforest in the Araribóia Indigenous Reserve in Maranhão state – an area of protected forest that is home to thousands of people.
And despite their efforts, the fire continues to rage out of control (see map, right).
What’s worse, this no act of nature. The Indigenous Peoples of this area, the Guajajara, claim that the fires are caused by loggers in retaliation for the Guajajara’s work to combat their illegal logging activities.
The Guajajara monitor and patrol their lands to ensure that illegal logging doesn’t take place, and have managed to reduce timber theft in the Araribóia territory. But now they are facing serious reprisals.
The forest fire is shaping up to be one of the largest in the history of Brazil. It has already consumed about 190,000 of the 413,000 hectares that make up Araribóia – that’s larger than the entire area of Rio de Janeiro.
Last week the fire grew to gigantic proportions, registering an average of 560 new hot spots every day. The line of fire is over 100 km long.
What’s (not) being done
This fire is gigantic, but up until a couple weeks ago, the Guajajara were fighting it with hardly any resources from the Brazilian government. A team of 30 Indigenous firefighters were working day and night without the backup they needed.
Indigenous leaders of the Guajajara people sought to change this. Earlier this month, they protested outside government offices (see photo, above right), denouncing the government’s apparent indifference to the fire and drawing attention to the issue.
It wasn’t until government inspectors who worked in fire fighting were attacked by an armed group within Arariboia Indigenous Land the government began taking Guajajara requests for help more seriously. The Maranhão Fire Department yesterday sent 40 fire-fighters to the Araribóia Indigenous Reserve.
The government’s slow reaction has come with heavy costs. When the Guajajara protest took place, 25% of Arariboia had been impacted by fires. Now, just over two weeks later, the impact area already accounts for 45% of the territory.
And this fire could lead to more fire in the future. Because fires like this deeply damage the rainforest and lower the humidity of the area, they actually increase the chance for future naturally-caused fires later.
What must be done
Illegal logging in Indigenous lands is happening all over Brazil. And as Indigenous Peoples take measures to stop it, retaliation – like violence or starting fires in the forest – grows.
In early September, Greenpeace Brazil was working with the Ka’apor people to support the independent monitoring of their territory using the latest technology as well as traditional methods. During that time, local reports indicated that loggers set fire to the edges of Indigenous lands and that some villages were already surrounded by flames.
There’s no doubt that the government of Brazil must do more to protect Indigenous Lands and the people living there from illegal loggers. They must also provide more support for fighting fires to Indigenous Peoples.
But the global community must also pay attention. Illegal timber from Indigenous Lands like Araribóia makes it to the international timber market all the time – fueling the violence and retaliation that led to these forest fires.
It is the responsibility of the international buyers of Amazon wood to ensure their supply chains aren’t connected to illegal logging. Only when illegal timber is too risky or no longer lucrative will it finally be extinguished.