Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands face unprecedented wildfire surge

June 13, 2024

“The Pantanal is already hot and it gets hotter, drier, with smoke”

As reported by Reuters, the Pantanal wetlands in Brazil are experiencing severe wildfires due to unusually dry conditions.

The fires have increased tenfold compared to the same period last year, according to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE).

Local residents like Jose Cleiton and Brandao Amilton are struggling to manage the fires and their impact on daily life and livelihoods.

The Pantanal, a vast region home to diverse wildlife, has been severely affected by weak rainfall since late last year, disrupting the usual seasonal flooding.

This has left the area more prone to wildfires, with over 3,400 square kilometers burned from January 1 to June 9, the highest level on record.

As the region approaches its peak wildfire season, experts warn that the situation could worsen, echoing the devastating fires of 2020.

Impact on local residents and wildlife

The fires have had a profound impact on the local population and wildlife.

Brandao Amilton, a local fishing guide, described the harsh conditions: “It’s hard to breathe. It’s hard for newborn children. The heat gets stronger and stronger.”

The smoke and heat are making everyday life difficult for residents, including Fatima Brandao, who noted the drastic change in her surroundings: “There never used to be smoke here. The sun shone clearly and the sky was always blue.”

The Pantanal’s rich biodiversity is also at risk.

The fires have already claimed the lives of many animals, including monkeys, caimans, and snakes.

The threat to wildlife and the environment is exacerbated by the early start of the wildfire season due to insufficient rainfall, which has made the area more susceptible to fires.

The role of climate change and El Nino

Scientists attribute the severity of the fires to a combination of climate change and an unusually strong El Nino pattern.

Michael Coe, a climate scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center, explained: “Climate change has supercharged El Nino. Now we are in a different realm.”

This phenomenon has led to extreme weather patterns, including the severe drought affecting the Pantanal and record flooding in Rio Grande do Sul.

The inhabitants of the Pantanal, who rely on farming, fishing, and ecotourism, face significant challenges as the fires threaten their livelihoods.

The smoke and heat make it difficult to work and live in the area, with residents expressing concerns about the long-term impact on their health and environment.

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