Last month, 164 fires were recorded across Indigenous territories in the Brazilian Pantanal, the world’s biggest wetland. In August, there were more than 200.
Nearly half of the certified Indigenous areas in the region have already been subject to fires that cut off villages, destroyed homes and farms, and sent community members to hospital for respiratory problems.
The wetland, which is larger than Greece and stretches over parts of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia, also offers unseen gifts to a vast swath of South America by regulating the water cycle upon which life depends, reports the New York Times.
At least 22 percent of the Pantanal in Brazil has burned since January, reports the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
A recent investigation by Agência Pública found that in some of areas, the burning first appeared — and multiplied — on private properties before spreading to the 11 Indigenous territories.
“The fire began outside the Indigenous territory. When it came, it came very fast, and crossed into our land from one minute to the next,” said Indigenous leader Estêvão Bororo to Agência Pública.
The situation is also critical in Baía dos Guató, the land of the Guató people.
“(After the fire) the birds don’t sing anymore. I no longer hear the song of the Chaco chachalaca bird. Even the jaguar that once scared me is suffering. That hurts me.” Said Sandra Guató Silva, a community leader to The New York Times.
Agência Pública spoke with an agent at PrevFogo, the National Forest Fire Prevention and Combat System, who asked not to be identified because of fear of retaliation. According to the official, meteorologists had warned that fires were intensifying in 2020 due to higher-than-average temperatures and little rainfall.
The official said strategic planning at the fire agency called for early contracting of firefighters to work on prevention efforts. However, the hiring process, which usually begins in mid-April, only began on June 23.
The agent said this delay in hiring prevented the agency from being able to prevent the fires. “We believe this greatly harmed our work. Our plan was to work on prevention in June so we would have a season with less damage than we are seeing now.”
As the worst flames raged in August and September, indigenous people and other volunteers turned into firefighters, sometimes working 24 hours at a time.