The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest as it covers over half of the world’s rainforest. Its territory is between nine countries and if the Amazon was a nation, it will be the ninth-largest in the world. The rich ecosystem makes the Amazon unrivaled in scale and complexity with 16,000 different species of trees, 2.5 million insect species, 40,000 plant species, 2,200 fish species, 1,300 bird species, 427 mammals, 430 amphibian species and 380 reptile species.
Over the past years, deforestation has been depleting the rainforest and experts postulate that in the next forty years it will be completely lost if action is not taken to address the problem. It is estimated that the rainforest is disappearing at a rate of 1.5 acres every second. The main reason for the deforestation in the area is to clear the forest for cattle grazing and crop production.
Efforts by environmental activists to curb deforestation in the Amazon have been difficult over the years until recently when laws and strict policies were put in place to protect the forest from deforestation. Conservation policies, improved law enforcement, and new protected areas have played a significant role.
Over the past weeks, the lungs of the earth as the Amazon is fondly called by environmental activists, because it produces 20% of the world’s oxygen has experienced incessant forest burning. All of it started with the controversial Trans-Amazonian Highway, which created room logging and more destructive actions such as illegal hunting of wildlife and clearing of interior forest areas for farming and settling squatters.
At the last official count, over 76,000 fires were burning across the Amazon which is an increase of over 80 percent over the same period last year, according to data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). Through July 2019 over 7,200 square miles of the Brazilian rainforest has burned—an aggregated area nearly the size of New Jersey.
Environmental activists have called for more stringent laws to protect the Amazon and made a bold call to the Brazillian government and world leaders to provide adequate funding support towards protecting the largest rainforest in the world as scientists expect the number of fires to increase over coming months as the dry season intensifies.
As the world battles the looming climate catastrophe, countries across Africa can learn from the Amazon fires and actively work towards a holistic strategy which targets combatting deforestation and protecting forests. The government needs to work with relevant stakeholders to enact laws that encourage reforestation, afforestation, and clamps down on illegal felling of trees and bush burning to preserve our biodiversity. These programmes need to have specific and measurable targets like the Rwandan forest policy that has resulted in a 37 percent increase in forest cover in the country. Enacting these stringent laws will promote the gradual depletion of CO2 from the atmosphere through absorption during photosynthesis. It will also help stop soil erosion, maintain the water cycle and also boost the economy especially the paper and lumbering industries.