Home » Amid a Severe Drought, Slash-and-burn Fuels Controversy in Bolivia
Accident Conflict Featured News

Amid a Severe Drought, Slash-and-burn Fuels Controversy in Bolivia

Almost 6.7 million acres (2.7 million hectares) have been devastated by wildfires this year in Bolivia, a country that has been suffering for months from an intense drought that has affected urban water supplies and threatened vital farmlands. The fires are being blamed on a slash-and-burn practice called chaqueo — farmers cut down vegetation and burn it to clear the land and prepare the soil for planting. But these fires frequently rage out of control, causing extensive devastation.

In a hot and dry year like this one, recent fires covered major cities like Santa Cruz, La Paz, El Alto and Cochabamba in dense smoke and pollution, making life miserable for over seven million Bolivians. A red health alert was declared in Santa Cruz due to a 20% increase in respiratory disease cases in public hospitals. Similar measures were taken in La Paz and Beni, including a one-week suspension of school.

The fires aggravated pollution in the departmental capital of Santa Cruz, to the extent that on October 24, the city’s air had 313 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³) of pollutants. According to the international Air Quality Index (AQI) standard, this is classified as “extremely poor.” Santa Cruz’s AQI was worse than Beijing’s notoriously polluted air (185 µg/m³), and briefly had the most polluted air in the world.

In October, Bolivian authorities reported a total of 21 forest fires across four departments, devastating thousands of acres of farmland. Nearly 4,000 firefighters, police and soldiers were mobilized to combat the flames. The fires even reached Amboró National Park, a nature preserve in central Bolivia, where firefighters discovered approximately 50 acres (20 hectares) of coca fields. Illegal settlements were also found in Amboró, proof of Bolivian government neglect of the country’s protected natural resources.

According to the government forest and land agency (ABT), as of October 31, 16 people were being investigated for their alleged roles in three major fires around Santa Cruz, and four are being held in preventive detention. “All the fires were caused by humans,” said Mauricio Suárez, head of Beni’s early warning unit. Beni Department, in the heavily forested lowlands of northeastern Bolivia, has seen over 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares) ravaged by wildfires.

Source: English.elpais