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Brazil deforestation spreads, adding to Amazon fire worries

ReutersBRASILIA/SAO PAULO (Reuters) — Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest rose for the fourth straight month in August from a year earlier, according to preliminary government data released Friday, adding to concerns over fires already ravaging the region.

The Brazilian Amazon is facing its worst spate of forest fires since 2010, with news of the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest last month prompting global outcry and worries that it could hurt demand for the country’s exports.

Brazil’s leading meat export industry group and other agribusiness associations on Friday joined with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to call for an end to deforestation on public lands, demanding government action amid the fires.

“I haven’t seen any contracts being canceled in any sectors. Exports continue, but the red light is flashing,” Marcello Brito, president of the Brazilian Agribusiness Association, told reporters at a briefing.

“If action isn’t taken, if the discourse doesn’t change, if the rhetoric doesn’t change, then things can get worse.”

Environmentalists blame the strong rhetoric of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro in favor of developing the Amazon for emboldening deforesters and those setting fires.

In the eight months through August, Amazon deforestation rose 92 percent to 6,404.8 square kilometers, an area larger than the U.S. state of Delaware, according to preliminary data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

In August alone, deforestation more than tripled to 1,700.8 square kilometers.

Deforestation is often followed by burning to clear land for ranching or farming, so the destruction in August could signal more fires to come in the Amazon, according to Ana Paula Aguiar, an INPE land use researcher now on leave at Stockholm University.

“They cut trees and then later they start fires, so possibly [the spike in fires] will continue,” Aguiar said. “If they have already deforested in the previous month, we’ll see fire this month.”

In the first five days of September, INPE registered 2,799 fires in the Amazon, a decrease of 60 percent compared to the same period of 2018.Speech

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