Fires in Bolivia Now 34,000 – 2 Million Hectares of Forest Burned
El Diario, La Paz, 24 Aug, 2010: The fires caused by rural farmers using slash-and-burn techniques to clear forest land for farming in Bolivia have increased from 25,000 to more than 34,000 this past week, over a 2 million-hectare area of land, according to official reports.
The director of the Inspections and Social Control of Forests and Land unit, Clíver Rocha, stated that last week 9000 new fires were added to the 25,000 recorded last Monday, at which time 1.5 million hectares of land had been affected.
“If this trend continues, within two weeks we will have returned to 2004 levels,” when approximately 50,000 fires were recorded and over 6 million hectares of land (6% of the national territory) were affected, warned Rocha.
Fires are common each year in Bolivia when the “chaqueo” season begins, a practice among indigenous and farming communities in which they light fires to clear forests and expand their farmland. Rocha believes the 2004 levels could be surpassed because the “real chaqueo season” takes place in September and part of October and because climate forecasts indicate strong winds will continue during the coming weeks.
The regions most affected by the fires are Santa Cruz, the Amazon (northeast) region of Beni, and northern La Paz.
General Director of Forest Management and Development of the Ministry of the Environment, Weimar Becerra, warned that at least $200 million dollars will be needed to reforest the areas that have been devastated by the fires.
Last week the smoke caused almost all of the airports in Eastern Bolivia and the Amazon region to close.
Currently eight of Bolivia’s 9 departments (states) are covered in smoke. The only exception is Oruro.
Bolivia announced it will request help from Brazil and Argentina to control the fires, but no details have been given yet as to how cooperation will be offered.