Brazil’s burning ban takes effect as Amazon fires rage

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A farmer works a burning tract of land for agricultural clearance in Iranduba, Amazonas state. (Reuters)
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Antonio Lopes da Silva, a 75-year-old livestock farmer, says the Amazon must be protected, but he also believes that regulated fires to clear land for pasture are an agricultural necessity. (AP Photo)
Updated 30 August 2019

Brazil’s burning ban takes effect as Amazon fires rage

  • The decree issued by President Jair Bolsonaro comes after escalating international pressure over the worst fires in the Amazon in years
  • Police on Thursday arrested three people for burning more than 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) in a conservation area in Para state

PORTO VELHO: A 60-day ban on burning in Brazil took effect Thursday after a global outcry over fires raging in the Amazon and data showing hundreds of new blazes in the rainforest.
The decree issued by President Jair Bolsonaro comes after escalating international pressure over the worst fires in the Amazon in years, which have ignited a diplomatic spat between Brazil and Europe.
But activists quickly doused hopes that the ban would work.
“The people who burn without a license are not going to obey,” said Rodrigo Junqueira of the Socio-Environmental Institute.
Thousands of troops and firefighters have been deployed since the weekend to combat the fires, along with two C-130 Hercules and other aircraft that are dumping water over affected areas in the country’s north.
Police on Thursday arrested three people for burning more than 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) in a conservation area in Para state.
More than 1,600 new fires were ignited between Tuesday and Wednesday, taking this year’s total to almost 85,000 — the highest number since 2010, official data shows. Around half of them are in the vast Amazon basin.
Bolsonaro however claimed in a live broadcast on Facebook that “this year’s fires are below the average of recent years.”
UN chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday mooted a meeting of key countries to drum up support to tackle the fires that have also devastated swaths of Bolivia.
“We are strongly appealing for the mobilization of resources and we have been in contact with countries to see whether, during the high-level session of the General Assembly, there could be a meeting devoted to the mobilization of support to the Amazon,” Guterres told reporters.
Brazil’s foreign ministry said it was not aware of the proposal.
It urged “foreign authorities” to learn more about the country’s environmental policies, the situation in the Amazon and measures taken to combat the fires “before proposing new initiatives.”
International offers of help for combating the fires is a hot-button issue in Brazil, with Bolsonaro and others insisting on the country’s sovereign rights over the Amazon.
Bolsonaro on Wednesday accused France and Germany of “buying” Brazil’s sovereignty after the G7 offered $20 million in Amazon fire aid.
Vice President Hamilton Mourao — widely considered a moderate voice in Bolsonaro’s government — also weighed in publicly for the first time on Wednesday, insisting in an opinion piece that “our Amazon will continue to be Brazilian.”
The governors of several states in the Amazon told Bolsonaro in a meeting on Tuesday that international help was needed.
Their plea came after Norway and Germany halted around $70 million in Amazon protection subsidies earlier this month.
The United States is ready to help Brazil fight forest fires in the Amazon, President Donald Trump said Wednesday, criticizing the G7 for failing to consult Bolsonaro over its initiative.
A water-bombing plane financed by G7 money has taken off from Paraguay to help fight fires in the Amazon, in coordination with Chile, the French president said Thursday.
Bolsonaro also renewed a demand Wednesday that French leader Emmanuel Macron withdraw “insults” against him, fueling a war of words between the two men that threatens to torpedo a huge trade deal between the European Union and South American countries, including Brazil.
In the escalating row, Macron has accused Bolsonaro of lying to him about Brazil’s climate change stance, while Bolsonaro has slammed Macron as having a colonialist mentality.
“I think Bolsonaro is causing enormous harm to the Brazilian people, a little out of evil and a little out of ignorance,” former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told the BBC from jail where he is serving almost nine years for corruption.
Even as Bolsonaro’s decree was published, there were already doubts over how Brazil would enforce the two-month ban on burning in the remote region where deforestation has surged this year as agencies tasked with monitoring illegal activities were weakened.
“It will not be useful,” a skeptical fruit shop owner in Porto Velho, the capital of the northwestern state of Rondonia, told AFP.
“There’s insufficient supervision.”
Environmental group WWF said Brazil already had laws and tools to detect illegal deforestation and burning, but it lacked enforcement.
“The certainty of impunity is the great spark that starts the fires,” WWF said.
Experts say increased land clearing during the months-long dry season to make way for crops or grazing has aggravated the recurring problem of fires.
The defense ministry says the fires are under control and that the number of blazes is falling, helped by recent rain in the affected areas.


Pakistan shuts Taftan border after coronavirus kills six in Iran

Updated 12 min 59 sec ago

Pakistan shuts Taftan border after coronavirus kills six in Iran

  • Flights to and from Iran unaffected despite deaths
  • Health emergency declared in border districts 

KARACHI: Pakistan has sealed its Taftan border and stopped pilgrims from traveling via the crossing to Iran after six coronavirus deaths were reported in the neighboring country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.
Afghanistan has also suspended travel to the neighboring country as fears across the region continued to grow over a jump in new coronavirus infections.
There are several shrines in Iran which are frequented by a large number of Shiites from Pakistan. Hundreds of people access the Taftan border crossing between the countries on a daily basis.
Pakistan has stopped all movement from crossing points, launched screening procedures and introduced additional patrols along the border “until the situation is under control,” Mir Zia Ullah Langove, home minister of southwestern Balochistan province, said.
“We are trying to take every possible precaution,” he told Arab News, adding that these were efforts being taken by the provincial government, with assurance from Prime Minister Imran Khan that the federal government would also be extending its help.
The move to seal the border follows Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan’s decision to declare a health emergency in all provincial districts bordering Iran on Saturday. But reports of the coronavirus deaths have had no impact on flights to and from Iran.
“The staff of the health ministry is already present at the airports and a passenger is allowed entry only after clearance of health declaration,” Abdul Sattar Khokhar, Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan spokesman, told Arab News as he dismissed reports of a temporary halt on flights to Iran.
“There is no reality in reports that flight operations to Iran have been stopped. We had neither stopped flight operations to and from China and nor will it be stopped to any other country.”
Imran Zarkon, who is chief of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said 1,000 masks had been distributed in border areas and a temporary hospital tent with 100-beds had been set up to deal with an emergency as part of preventive efforts.
“Qom is the most affected area of Iran where the pilgrims go, so if there is any possibility of virus coming to Pakistan it will be through Taftan and authorities here are on high alert,” he told Arab News.
But these steps have failed to console the people of Balochistan, with some expressing concern about illegal movement along the porous border.
“Iran shares over #1000 KM long porous border with #Balochistan #Pakistan, #coronaravirus deaths are alarming news for the region,” Sanallah Baloch, a Balochistan lawmaker, tweeted on Saturday. “Daily 100s of people cross these borders without formal procedures, region is poverty-stricken with no medical facility.”
In a statement released Sunday, Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said he had discussed the matter with Iranian officials to safeguard Pakistani nationals visiting the country.
Qadri also spoke to Dr. Zafar Mirza, state minister for health, on the deployment of medical teams to Taftan town along the border.
Iranian health authorities said 28 people were being treated for the virus in at least four different cities, including Tehran.
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan share long, porous borders with Iran that are often used by smugglers and human traffickers, while millions of Afghan refugees currently live in the Islamic Republic — raising fears that the virus could easily spread over the border.
“To prevent the spread of the novel #coronavirus and protect the public, Afghanistan suspends all passenger movement (air and ground) to and from Iran,” the office of the National Security Council of Afghanistan said in a statement posted on Twitter.
A provincial official in Pakistan and the country’s Frontier Corps also confirmed that the country had sealed the land border with Iran.
Earlier Sunday, Iran reported eight deaths from the novel coronavirus, the highest toll of any country outside China, as the supreme leader accused foreign media of trying to use the outbreak to sabotage a general election.
The latest three deaths Iran reported on Sunday were among 15 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, bringing the overall number of infections to 43 and fatalities to eight — the highest death toll outside of China, the epicenter of the epidemic.
Four new infections surfaced in the capital Tehran, seven in the holy city of Qom, two in Gilan and one each in Markazi and Tonekabon, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
Authorities have ordered as a “preventive measure” the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers in 14 provinces across Iran from Sunday.
Desperate and jobless Afghans have crossed the porous border with Iran for years in search of work to support their struggling families back home.
But hundreds of thousands of Afghans have returned home in recent years as US sanctions have battered the Iranian economy.
(With AFP)