Bolivia, like neighbour Brazil, battles intense wildfires that have so far burnt 500,000 hectares

Access to the comments Comments
By Alice Tidey  with Reuters
Fire fighters walk in the burned region of Robore where wildfires have destroyed hectares of forest in Bolivia, August 19, 2019.
Fire fighters walk in the burned region of Robore where wildfires have destroyed hectares of forest in Bolivia, August 19, 2019.   -   Copyright  Courtesy of Santa Cruz Department via REUTERS

Bolivian authorities warned this week that 70% of the department of Santa Cruz — where more than a quarter of the country's population lives — is under "extreme risk" from forest fires.

According to the government, nearly 500,000 hectares of forest have now been turned into ashes.

President Evo Morales announced on Wednesday that a new environmental emergency cabinet had been created to tackle the blazes in the Chiquitania area which borders with Brazil and Paraguay.

The three Latin American countries have been battling raging wildfires in the Amazon rainforest.

According to Brazil’s space research centre (INPE), 72,843 fires have hit the country's side of the Amazon — an 83% increase on last year and the highest number registered since records began in 2013. The smokes from the wildfires on Wednesday caused an hour-long blackout in Sao Paulo, located 2,700 kms away.

READ MORE: Amazon burning: Smoke travels nearly 3000 km to black out Sao Paulo in middle of the day

Morales also announced that the government had hired a Boeing 747 Supertanker. The plane which can carry up to 70,400 litres of water is the largest aerial firefighting aircraft in the world.

A fourth helicopter equipped with the Bambi bucket system to carry and release water has also been dispatched to assist the more than 1,700 soldiers, police officers and firefighters sent in to combat the flames and provide assistance to the population.

Greenpeace has blamed the record number of wildfires in the Brazilian Amazon on deforestation.

"The number of forest fires is higher in the Amazon regions most affected by deforestation practices, as fires are one of the main tools used for deforestation, including by farmers," the NGO said in a statement on Thursday, attacking Jair Bolsonaro government's "dismantling" of the country's environmental policies.

It also warned that it could have severe meteorological consequences for the region but also for the globe.

"Forest fires and climate change operate in a vicious cycle: as the number of fires increase, so do greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the planet’s overall temperature and the occurrence of extreme weather events, such as major droughts," it said.

Read more: Amazon fires cause activists to protest outside London's Brazilian embassy

Want more news?