In Brazil, National Park Under Threat from Illegal Fires

by Paula Góes

For over a month, the Chapada Diamantina National Park, in Bahia, has been burning relentlessly. According to Brazil’s environmental agency, 50 percent of the national park’s 1,520 km² have burned, which represents 75,000 hectares of forest (roughly the size of New York City). Nearly 500 people – firefighters and volunteers – are battling the blazes, caused by illegal fires supposedly started by ranchers clearing land for pasture. Only heavy rains will stop the flames, but these are not expected until the end of the month.

If the causes are known, and it is not the first time, Paulo Bicarato [pt] wonders why the criminals have never been caught:

Como se ninguém soubesse disso. Se as causas são conhecidas, só se pode deduzir que há conivência por parte de alguém. Triste, muito triste ver que todo ano é a mesma coisa.

As if nobody knew this. If causes are known, one can only deduce that there somebody is colluding. Sad, it is very sad to see that every year the same thing happens.

Marilia Miller [pt] points out that besides the problem of deliberate fire starting, the authorities have taken too long to act:

O que mais nos incomoda, portanto, sem dúvida, é a morosidade das autoridades competentes em viabilizar os recursos às brigadas voluntárias, que estão deixando de apagar fogo por falta de equipamentos (EPIS e Material de Combate) e de apoio logístico, tais como deslocamento e alimentação. O Governo do Estado, como sempre, está ausente, desconsiderando completamente o fato de que a Chapada Diamantina é a provedora de água dos baianos (80% das águas do estado nascem nessa região).

The thing that bothers us the most, without a doubt, is the slowness of the relevant authorities in making resources available to the voluntary brigades, who haven’t managed to put the fire out due to lack of equipment (individual and fire combat equipment) and of logistic support, such as travel and food. The Government of the State, as always, is absent, disregarding completely the fact that Chapada Diamantina is Bahia’s main water supplier (80% of the state’s water comes from this region).

Blog SuburbioEmFoco shouts:

- PORQUE O SILÊNCIO? PORQUÊ A FALTA DE DIVULGAÇÃO DA GRANDE MÍDIA?????

Why the silence? Why isn’t the major media talking about it?

Zé Luiz Soares [pt] asks if this is the end of a paradise:

É possível uma coisa dessas? No Brasil, é.
Não conheço a Chapada. Na verdade, sonho com ela há anos, como um paraíso distante a ser explorado; destino daquela que seria a minha maior viagem pelo Brasil; roteiro que planejo intimamente, a ser percorrido de mochila nas costas – sem planos e sem destino. Um sonho que, parece, vai se perdendo em meio à ganância, incompetência e irresponsabilidade.
Só resta contar com a interferência Divina, mais uma vez.

Is it possible? In Brazil, it is.
I haven’t been to Chapada. Indeed, I have dreamed about it for years, as a distant paradise to be explored; this is the fate of the place that would be my biggest trip in Brazil; a journey that I plan, intimately, to make backpacking – with no plans or destination. A dream that, it seems, will be lost amid greed, incompetence and irresponsibility.
We are left to rely on the interference of the Divine, again.

Photos taken in July 2005 by William Kitzinger and used under a Creative Commons license. See his Chapada Diamantina set.

Chapada Diamantina was once a rich source of diamonds and gold but now thrives on ecotourism. Due to the dry season and strong heat, small fires are common in the region and usually the forest heals itself. There were big fires in 1998 and 2003, but the situation is out of control this year, and if not reforested, Chapada may lose its exuberance for ever.