Amazonia Fires: Water Impacts

19 Sep 2019 by Staff - Water Diplomat
Edinburgh, Scotland

Jordi Surkin, Conservation Director of WWF Bolivia, is in conversation with David Duncan, Publisher, OOSKAnews in this (LINK) "Water Diplomacy Talks" audio interview.

The conversation was recorded at the start of September 2019 as the full extent and impact of devastating fires in the climate-crucial Amazon Basin had become clear, and reached the front pages of mainstream media around the world as a contentious issue at the G7 Summit.

Those fires continue to rage, devastating ecosystems vital to natural freshwater systems. Opprobrium for the global tragedy has been aimed at the government of Brazil’s climate change skeptic President Jair Bolsonaro, whose administration has relaxed environmental enforcement standards, resulting in widespread arson by agriculturalists.

What are the environmental impacts, climate impacts and water impacts?

Surkin joined WWF over six years ago. He is conservation director for WWF Bolivia but he has had regional, Amazon wide and international roles in the network. Through these roles he has worked on freshwater, climate change adaptation, forest based economic opportunities, private sector engagement, species, forest friendly roads, hydropower and others. He has worked for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Conservation International (CI), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), international cooperation agencies such as the European Union (EU), the UK Department for foreign development (DFID) and Denmark's Department for International Development (DANIDA) as well as indigenous organizations. His passion for the environment developed as a result of spending his childhood working for his family in the Pyrenees Mountains in Catalonia, Spain.


Jordi Surkin shared this WWF assessment of the fire situation:

  • These fires have diverse causes, which are still not fully clear. However, some of the key factors involved include:
  • Climate extremes, drought, strong winds. It is possible that some areas being affected have not received rain in at least six months.
  • Under these conditions actors that traditionally use fire (cattle ranchers, local agricultural producers etc.) may have been unable to adequately control fires.
  • Settlers from the highlands have been moving into various parts of the tropical lowlands and may have contributed as well since they do not know how to adequately utilize fire and may have used fire indiscriminately.
  • Public policy changes, have encouraged expansion of agricultural and beef production, including through the promotion of beef exports to China and authorizing the use of controlled fires.
  • In some points fires have entered Bolivia from Paraguay and Brazil. This demonstrates that this is a transboundary issue, since fires are not limited by geographic boundaries. In some cases, it appears that fires even crossed rivers.
  • Global markets are tending towards deforestation free commodities such as beef, this trend has yet to become common in Bolivia.