Brazil is preparing to deploy troops to the Amazon rainforest to stop soaring deforestation as the COVID-19 pandemic prevents enforcement agencies from conducting raids, according to Reuters.
Between January and March, deforestation increased by 51% throughout the country compared to the year before, while 2019 marked an 11-year deforestation high.
The surge in deforestation reflects the lawlessness that has come to reign throughout the forest following the election of President Jair Bolsonaro, who loosened environmental regulations and encouraged companies and individuals to ignore Indigenous land rights.
Forest fires have proliferated throughout the forest over the past year, many of which have been started by groups seeking to clear land for mining or agrobusiness.
Recent satellite footage has shown that the forest is likely drier than usual following severely low rainfall, which suggests that forest fires could spike in the months ahead, Mongabay reported.
“I have the worst possible expectations about uncontrolled human-induced deforestation and fire ignition this year,” Ane Alencar, the head of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), told Mongabay.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the Brazilian economy to slow down overall, deforestation has increased because enforcement raids in the forest have been curbed to reduce the health risk to workers, Mongabay noted. As a result, efforts to clear parts of the forest are going unchecked.
The military will theoretically step up to fill this gap, according to Reuters.
“We already have a plan practically finished for an initiative against deforestation and to prevent fires that start in July and August,” Vice President Hamilton Mourão told Reuters.
The Amazon rainforest plays a critical role in the regulation of the global climate and water cycle. It’s home to more species of wildlife than anywhere else on Earth, acts as a carbon sink, and its sustainable management provides jobs to people throughout Latin America, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Indigenous communities, meanwhile, depend on the integrity of the forest for their way of life.
Since 1978, 289,000 square miles of the Amazon have been destroyed by industrial activity. If this deforestation continues, the forest could enter a “death spiral” from which it may never return.