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Pantanal: what can be done to prevent other environmental tragedies like the one in 2020

Posted in: 2020/12/27

2020 was one of the most difficult years in the history of the Pantanal, due to deforestation and, especially, forest fires.

The territory, which had already been suffering from intensified deforestation, illegal burning and the diminishing power of environmental protection laws, was hit by an unparalleled number of fires, which caused destruction to the biome’s fauna and flora.

The fires are nothing new to the territory. Every year, according to the monitoring done since 1998 by the National Institute for Special Research (Inpe), the Pantanal registers thousands of fires. But the significant increase in the amount, the largest ever recorded, was definitive for the fire damage to reach such proportions in 2020.

Other possible factors contributed to the damage caused. Rainfall averages last year reached historic lows. The weather also provided for lightning strikes – which, without rain, can start fires.

As a result, the biome registered frightening numbers, with more than 4.5 million hectares devastated by fire and 30% of the entire territory affected by the fires. These also affected the Pantanal communities, the quilombolas and indigenous peoples of the area, who lost the territory where they live and from which they make their living.

Pantanal: Monkey among burnt branches

Photo: Gustavo Figueiroa

Although the scenario is already showing signs of recovery, due to the rains, specialists point out that the rains are not enough for even a partial recovery of the local fauna and flora, and that it may take up to 50 years for the area to regenerate.

But relying on only the rain is not enough. It is necessary to take a series of measures that guarantee a reduction in the factors that can cause new environmental tragedies, both for the Pantanal and for the other Brazilian biomes.

Joint measures can help save the Pantanal

To create actions to prevent and confront changes in climate conditions, as well as to curb illegal burning and irregular conduct by companies, actions involving various sectors of society are needed.

Some of these actions have already been taken by NGOs and the private sector. Others are beginning to be implemented by the government in a more targeted way to protect the Pantanal and the Brazilian biomes.

Government actions

In view of the national and international visibility that the destruction of the Pantanal has gained, the government created an External Commission to Confront Burning in Brazilian Biomes, in the Chamber of Deputies, in September 2020.

The Commission has presented legislative proposals that can help preserve the biome, such as emergency aid for the Pantanal people who have had their areas affected, the construction of Biome Protection Funds (FPB), and bills for the protection and sustainable use of the Pantanal, among others.

Direct actions by volunteers and NGOs

The other side of the aid has come mainly from the direct action of volunteers, among them many artists, and the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that operate in the territory, carrying out actions of prevention and restoration of the degraded areas, as well as the protection, rescue, and reinsertion of the animals affected by the fires.

An example of this is the work done by the Hyacinth Macaw Institute, which collaborates with actions against fires and works to prevent the largest natural refuge of Hyacinth Macaws in the country from being destroyed by the fires.

The Onçafari Association, which is active in the rescue, rehabilitation and reinsertion of jaguars and other species in safe places in nature, is also one of the NGOs working at the area.

And, although it is not an NGO, the Intervention Ecology Laboratory (LEI) of the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul also stands out for its projects in the area. With the support of SOS Pantanal, the Project for the Recovery of Degraded Areas is dedicated to diagnostic activities for the socio-ecological restoration of the Pantanal.

Actions by private initiative

The third side in the fight for the biome comes from private actions, through fund-raising campaigns to contribute to the work of NGOs in defense of the Pantanal. Besides collaborating financially, with sums that will be invested in the territory, these companies help raise awareness about the importance of the work of NGOs and preservation actions.

This is the case of the Synergia in Defense of the Pantanal Campaign, launched in December, with a live performance with singer Zeca Baleiro, and the raising of donations that will take place until January 31, the campaign’s page.

So far, it has been possible to raise around R$40,000, which will be audited by the SOS Pantanal organization and will serve as emergency financial support to help the work of NGOs that work in the conservation and defense of the biome, and have acted to recover from the damage caused by the fires.

At the end of the campaign, all the proceeds will go to the NGOs SOS Pantanal, Instituto Arara Azul, Associação Onçafari, and to SOS Pantanal’s Degraded Areas Recovery Project, together with the Ecology of Intervention Laboratory (LEI) of the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul.

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