With 22 thousand fire outbreaks, the Amazon has the worst month of October in 15 years

novembro, 09 2023

Extreme drought that hits the biome favours the spread of fire, which has increased by 59% compared to October 2022
By WWF-Brazil

With the severe drought affecting the Amazon, the biome recorded 22,061 fire outbreaks in October alone - the worst record for the month in the last 15 years. An increase of 59% compared to October 2022, when 13,911 fire outbreaks were detected. The data are from the Queimadas Program, from Inpe (National Institute for Space Research).

The numbers recorded in October 2023 in the biome exceed by 34% the historical average for the month since 1998, when Inpe began monitoring wildfires in the Amazon. Compared to the month of October 2022, increases of 250% were recorded in Roraima state (409 outbreaks), 157% in Amazonas (3,858 outbreaks), 74% in Amapá (1,063 outbreaks), 52% in Pará (11,378) and 49% in Acre (1,675).

In all states, fires also increased compared to the historical average since 1998: 286% in Roraima, 194% in Amazonas, 152% in Acre, 112% in Amapá and 73% in Pará.

Despite the record in October, in the year to date, between January 1st and November 7th, there was a 20% drop compared to 2022. During the period, 83,413 fire outbreaks were detected in the biome, compared to 105,115 last year. The 2023 value is slightly above the average of the last six years (82,561 fire outbreaks).

The states that saw the greatest growth in fires in 2023 are Roraima, with an increase of 121% (2 thousand fire outbreaks) and Amapá, with a jump of 116% (1,913 fire outbreaks).

“In the Amazon, fires are often associated with deforestation. Humid, well-maintained forests do not burn spontaneously. However, despite deforestation falling for the seventh consecutive month, wildfires in the region keep rising. This dynamics can be understood as part of a scenario of severe drought, the most devastating for the Amazon biome in the last 120 years”, says Mariana Napolitano, Director of Strategy at WWF-Brazil.

According to her, the drought in the Amazon and also the hottest October in history are connected to El Niño and the abnormal warming of the Atlantic Ocean, resulting from the accentuated emission of carbon into the atmosphere. “In this scenario of drought and high temperatures, fires tend to spread, especially on the edges of forests and woods with a higher level of degradation,” says Napolitano.

In addition to the Amazon, Inpe also indicates an increase in wildfires in the Pantanal and Caatinga, which are also affected by severe drought. In the Pantanal, 2,939 fire outbreaks were detected between January 1st and November 7th. The number represents an increase of 141% compared to the same period in 2022, although it is much lower than the average of the last six years (7,886). In the first seven days of November, the Pantanal had 1,006 fire outbreaks - 400% more than recorded in 2022 (201 fire outbreaks).

In the Caatinga, in the year to date, 14,885 fire outbreaks were recorded. The value is 41% higher than that of the same period in 2022 and 45% higher than the average of the last six years, which was 10,240 fire outbreaks. In the month of October alone, 6,929 fire outbreaks were recorded in the biome - an increase of 38% compared to what was recorded in October 2022 (5,030 fire outbreaks).

Extreme drought

With its local effects exacerbated by deforestation and fires, the extreme drought mainly affects the Western Amazon, where some of the main rivers have seen an unprecedented reduction in level.

The impact of the drought is particularly serious for riverside populations, as many have become isolated, finding it difficult to obtain essential services such as water supply, food, health and education. Many municipalities are already without access, as boats do not arrive. The shortage affects countless communities and freight prices skyrocket, impacting the entire local economy.

“At this time of climate crisis that is ravaging the Amazon with a severe drought, it is urgent to reinforce actions to combat fire and, also, to eliminate deforestation. Furthermore, it is necessary to take action to protect against fire in areas where the forest has already been degraded”, stated Edegar de Oliveira, Director of Conservation and Restoration at WWF-Brazil.

This effort, according to Oliveira, is important so that the Amazon forest does not reach its tipping point. “With the drier climate and higher temperatures, areas of the Amazon rainforest are more susceptible,” he highlighted.

Humanitarian aid

According to Osvaldo Barassi Gajardo, Conservation specialist at WWF-Brazil, the organisation is working on two fronts to combat the effects of the drought in the Amazon. One of them, within the scope of the Emergency Response Center, involves humanitarian aid to affected populations and the strengthening of firefighting brigades. The other front is linked to the task force investigating the high mortality of river dolphins in the Coari and Tefé lakes, inner state of Amazonas, where 228 animals have already lost their lives.

"WWF-Brazil's emergency action in the face of the serious effects of the drought in the Amazon focuses on humanitarian aid to communities that are becoming isolated, due to low river levels, and that are suffering from water and food shortages. Our first response served 353 families with food parcels in Rondônia and Amazonas states, totaling almost six tons of food. We are now working on planning a larger action that will support another 4 thousand families in the Amazon", declared Gajardo.

The 353 families that have already received food parcels were served through a partnership between WWF-Brazil and the Rondônia Rubber Tappers Organisation, which supported residents of the Cuniã Lake Extractive Reserve (Rondônia), and with the Amazonas Environment Secretariat, which distributed food in the Piagaçu-Purus Sustainable Development Reserve, which occupies four municipalities in the central area of the state, and in the Ituxi Extractive Reserve, in Lábrea, to the south.

"We are supporting with food parcels because the situation in the communities is very delicate. Through rapid purchasing and distribution management, we are able to ensure that these products reach the people who need them. The communities themselves are working together with institutions such as ICMBio and city halls in order to obtain logistical support and deliver the food parcels", explained Gajardo.

Fire brigades and River Dolphins

As wildfires are increasing, WWF-Brazil is also expanding the donation of equipment to fire fighting brigades, especially in settlements and riverside and indigenous communities.

"Since 2019 we have supported community brigades whose action is now being critical in combating wildfires. During this period, throughout the Amazon, around 50 voluntary community brigades and brigades linked to city halls have already been supported, directly or through partnerships. We also supported the Firefighters of Acre and Amazonas states by donating equipment", said Gajardo.

Concerning the death of river dolphins, WWF-Brazil has acted in partnership with task forces led by the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Institute (IDSM) in Tefé and the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation in Coari, providing fuel, protective individual equipment, veterinary supplies and logistical support for the movement of volunteers. In addition to support in planning and mapping areas which are sensitive to animals, including the use of climate models.
With the severe drought affecting the Amazon, the biome recorded 22,061 fire outbreaks in October alone
© Jacqueline Lisboa / WWF-Brasil
With its local effects exacerbated by deforestation and fires, the extreme drought mainly affects the Western Amazon
© Jacqueline Lisboa / WWF-Brasil
The impact of the drought is particularly serious for riverside populations
© Jacqueline Lisboa / WWF-Brasil