1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Amazon deforestation surges by half

May 9, 2020

Brazil has become the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in South America, but while the country is distracted, the Amazon rainforest has lost over 1,200 square km so far in 2020. This is up 55% from last year.

Smoke billows from a fire in the Amazon rainforest
Image: Reuters/B. Kelly

Newly released satellite imagesshow that deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has surged this year.

Some 1,202 square kilometers (464 square miles) of forest — an area more than 20 times the size of Manhattan — was destroyed from January to April, according to Brazil's National Space Research Institute.

The figures, released Friday amount a more than 55% increase on the same period last year and is the highest figure for the first four months of the year since 2015.

"Unfortunately, it looks like what we can expect for this year are more record-breaking fires and deforestation," said Greenpeace activist Romulo Batista.

Deforestation is caused by both wildfires and illegal destructive activities.

Read more: Where could Brazil's criminal investigation of Jair Bolsonaro lead?

The Brazilian state of Amazonas has been one the hardest-hit regions of the country by the coronavirus pandemic, with many of the country's resources going to fighting the pandemic which has caused more than 10,000 deaths in the country, and over 140,000 cases. Campaigners fear this may mean that less focus is being given to the destructive deforestation.

Bolsonaro sends in the army

Fingers are being pointed at Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his poor effort to protect the largest rainforest and one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. The far-right climate change skeptic sent the army in earlier this week to deal with illegal logging, farming and mining.

Last year, in Bolsonaro's first year in office, over 10,000 square kilometers of forest were lost in fires and illegal deforestation.

Read more: Brazil's Amazon rainforest has become the Wild West for illegal gold miners

The vast majority of losses in 2019 took place between May and October. Experts are concerned about the scale of destruction so far this year, since deforestation is normally on a smaller scale in these months owing to the high rainfall levels.

Brazil's environmental agency has seen large staffing and budget cuts since Bolsonaro's tenure as president began. Environmentalists have repeatedly said that supporting Brazil's environmental protection agencies would be a more effective plan than sending in military forces.

Conservationists around the world say they anticipate that the worst is still to come.

ed/mm (AFP, dpa)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.