By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) – Fires raging in the Amazon pose a risk to health including from respiratory diseases, especially in children, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
The rainforest, home to 30 million people, has a fragile ecosystem providing vital food and water that is threatened, said Dr. Maria Neira, director of WHO’s public health, environment and social determinants of health department.
Fires in Brazil’s sprawling Amazon rainforest have receded slightly since President Jair Bolsonaro sent in the military to help battle the blazes last Saturday.
“We have some anecdotal reports of increase of certain respiratory diseases in children but nothing that we can report from a systematic monitoring,” Neira told Reuters, referring to accounts from some local health care facilities.
People living closest to the fires have been evacuated and no deaths have been reported, she said in a interview at WHO headquarters. Those with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, which can be aggravated by air pollution, are at higher risk from the smoke, she said.
“It will be not different from what other pollutants in the air will be affecting our health – cardiovascular diseases, acute respiratory problems,” Neira added.
Human exposure will vary depending on promixity and intensity, but the pollutant particles will remain “for a long time” in zones that had intense blazes, she said.
She suggested however that the fires were unlikely to cause longer term problems such as higher rates of cancer, which arise from “intense and long term exposure”.
“It is more of a short-term ad hoc rather than a long-term exposure,” she said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Peter Graff)