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Amazon fires in Bolivia serve as sobering warning

By SERGIO HELD and GERMAN SANCHEZ in Bogota | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-12-02 07:15

A man on Oct 26 walks on a dry area of Bolivia's Lake Titicaca, Latin America's largest freshwater basin, as it edges toward record low levels. CLAUDIA MORALES/REUTERS

The destructive impact of forest fires in a northern La Paz nature reserve in Bolivia has caused deep distress to indigenous villages.

Bolivians are battling wildfire blazes that have torn through 3 million hectares of land this year. The fires, fueled by an extended dry season and a dearth of precipitation, have destroyed fields and driven out animals, severely damaging the Amazon's flora and wildlife.

The wildfires, which come as its neighbor Brazil battles with scorching temperatures and its own fires, have led to canceled flights and shut schools due to smoke-filled air and devastated ecosystems. Over a dozen people have died.

"Everything was burned: Crops, vegetation, cuttings, coffee plantations, citric plantations, banana plantations. In other words, it devastated everything," said Guillermo Medina from Tumpasa in northern Bolivia, which was hit by the fires.

The situation is especially grim for the indigenous Tacana people, whose livelihoods mostly depend on the forest. With their houses, crops and clean water supplies damaged by the flames, they are forced to evacuate.

"We ask the authorities to help us. We ask everyone to put their hands on their chests and give support to the indigenous people who are suffering today from this big fire," Ignacia Supepi Cuasace, chief of the Rio Blanco Chiquitana Indigenous Community, said on Nov 18.

"This is the worst environmental catastrophe suffered by Bolivia in its entire history. We are talking about millions of hectares that have been affected," Luis Angel Vasquez, former deputy justice minister of Bolivia, told China Daily. "The destruction is not only of natural parks, but also the death of the flora and fauna that we have in this region."

The Bolivian government has sent firefighters and military troops to put out the flames, but the challenging terrain and inadequate resources has made the task difficult. Twenty-two municipalities have been declared disaster zones.

Thus, the government of Bolivian President Luis Arce has called for international aid, with firefighters coming down from Venezuela to help as well as others from France, Chile and Brazil.

Long-term effects

The Amazon fires in Bolivia are not only causing an urgent humanitarian disaster, but will also have long-term effects on the nature and economy of the area.

The fauna in the area has suffered greatly. Numerous animals have been burned alive or died from smoke inhalation.

Bolivia's fires serve as a sobering warning of the catastrophic effects of climate change as rising temperatures have caused a protracted dry season, contributing to the flames.

"Drought has global impact, affecting the climate and humidity patterns throughout the country, in addition to posing the risk of pandemic diseases," said Ana Luiza Tunes, an environmental engineer and water management specialist in Brazil.

Agencies contributed to this story.

The writers are freelance journalists for China Daily.

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