The devastation in the Amazon does not stop. But the pandemic is likely to darken it

Of the Coronavirus pandemic that has hit the world, there are two consequences, for obvious reasons, most clearly highlighted: health and economic ones

by Federico Coppini
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The devastation in the Amazon does not stop. But the pandemic is likely to darken it

Of the Coronavirus pandemic that has hit the world, there are two consequences, for obvious reasons, most clearly highlighted: health and economic ones. But there is a third problem, which often goes unnoticed: the environmental one.

Man-made fires seriously threaten some of the world's largest green lungs, such as tropical rain forests in Brazil and Indonesia. There is a danger that the distraction caused by the pandemic may favour a lightening of environmental standards by the Jair Bolsonaro-led government and therefore open the way to new devastations.

The mix between health emergency and ecological emergency could be devastating for the populations of those regions. The record fires of 2019 2019 was a record year for fires in the Brazilian and Indonesian forests. These are nations with the highest rates of deforestation, practiced precisely for economic purposes by illegal loggers and speculators, who cut down the forest to create large-scale pastures and crops for commercial use, or for the mining of the soil.

The problem in Brazil also seems to be represented by the Bolsonaro government, which does not seem to consider the salvation of the Amazon a priority for the world, as well as for its own country. Last year, in fact, the Brazilian president observed that international appeals to stop wild deforestation were nothing more than interference and threats to Brazil's sovereignty.

In short, the Amazon is not, in his vision, the largest green lung in the world and a source of environmental well-being for all humanity, but an exclusively Brazilian and, mainly, economic affair. Health and environmental emergency are related But there is also a close correlation between health and environmental emergencies, because the latter can have serious repercussions on the former.

"Small particulates – smoke, soot – emanating from these fires aggravate respiratory infection," said Harvey Fineburg, Dean of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, during a briefing with the Columbia Institute Earth press on 17th June.

"COVID infections are more likely to be more severe among populations that are directly affected by the fires," said Finberg. In many tropical areas, those who are particularly vulnerable are indigenous peoples on whose lands these fires could be started.

To all this must also be added the diseases already present in those tropical areas, such as dengue fever and malaria. Furthermore, to make matters worse, the fires in the Amazon are not just about the Amazon, because the smoke given off by the vast combustion, expands, worsening the air in the main cities of the country.

At a time when the health emergency requires avoiding displacements, people directly threatened by fires could be forced to move, thus promoting the spread of the virus. The pressure on Bolsonaro for a turnaround Meanwhile, a group of 29 global investment companies, which manage about $3.7 trillion, have asked meetings with Brazilian diplomats in various parts of the world to ask the Bolsonaro government not to encourage the surge in devastation in the Amazon rainforest.

Investors, led by a Norwegian insurance and pension company, Storebrand Asset Management, denounced in a letter how "deforestation has escalated in recent years, combined with news of a dismantling of environmental policies, human rights and bodies.

Responsible for the application, they are creating widespread uncertainty about the conditions for investing or providing financial services to Brazil. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry has confirmed that some embassies have received the letter and that the matter is under scrutiny.

Among the 25 European signatories are the Norwegian Nordea Asset Management and the Church of England, which has a £2.8 billion (equal to $3.5 billion) pension fund, as well as Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) of the United Kingdom, among the largest investors with a management fund of £1.2 trillion.