An open letter from Wetlands International to local, regional and national governments of the transboundary Pantanal as well as the international development, water and environment communities seeks urges stakeholders to take collective action to halt existing fires and to prevent future fires in the Pantanal region in Latin America.
Dated October 29, the letter observes that fires have burned within the 3,400 km wetland corridor since August but this fact has not been widely disseminated.
The reason for the fires is similar to the situation in the Amazon: clearing of vegetation to release land for cattle grazing. Similarly, there are more fires than in 2018, with a three-fold increase, and many have gotten out of control. Some have spread into indigenous lands.
The fires have intensified due to a hotter and drier dry season and coincide with budget cuts for fire monitoring and fire fighting agencies. The letter also cites that the government of Brazil has been very slow to react and the failure to mobilize state agencies has contributed to the intensity and severity of the situation in the Pantanal.
The fires are so intense that the impact is also felt in urban areas where the vulnerable (both young and old) have been urged to stay indoors. The state of Mato Grosso do Sul has declared a state of emergency for both cities and more rural areas.
Wetlands International emphasizes that urgent action is required to bring the fires under control and mitigate future threats. The letter calls for immediate planning to prevent next year’s drought reaching the same proportions as this year’s; in addition to strengthening the monitoring organizations and fire brigade, the NGO requests environmental education to be included in official government planning.
Wetlands International calls for:
- The development of policies and sanctions to discourage the further lighting of illegal fires
- The coordination of national early warning systems from countries bordering the transboundary Pantanal, and inclusion of geo-spatial data to monitor and evaluate ecosystem impact
- The provision of technical assistance to protected areas and landowners to support emergency response measures
- The support of local and regional organisations and fire prevention agencies to exchange learning, build capacity, develop logistical skills, enhance equipment and strengthen personnel
- The empowerment of civil society organisations, local communities, indigenous groups and other stakeholders to identify fire sources and use traditional knowledge to counter environmental degradation and natural fires
- The development of dialogue between civil society, local communities, landowners and all
Jane Madgwick, Chief Executive Officer, Wetlands International said: “The future of this vast, complex wetland, the biodiversity and the multitude of life-supporting roles it plays for people, is ultimately in the hands of local communities who live there or close by".
“The fires that we just witnessed seem to signal a new, disturbing attitude towards the Pantanal. One which is blind to its special nature and sees it only as land. This unique and fragile region can easily be degraded or destroyed by fire and other bad practices, reducing not only its biodiversity but alongside this, its potential to support productive use in the long-term.”