SAO PAULO – Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon reached 2,254.8 square kilometers in July, an area 278 percent larger than the surface affected by the phenomenon in the same month last year, according to the latest estimates of the National Institute of Space Research (INPE) updated on Tuesday.
According to INPE’s projection, which captures monthly data through a system of alerts on alterations in the forest cover of the Amazon, deforestation went from 596.6 square kilometers in July 2018 to 2,254.8 km² last month.
Inpe had already reported an 88-percent increase in deforestation in June compared to the same month in 2018, data that was publicly questioned by the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, and the publication of which led to the dismissal of the former head of the institution, Ricardo Galvao on Monday.
In his place, the government appointed Darton Policarpo Damiao, a Brazilian Air Force (FAB) officer, with a master’s degree in remote sensing from INPE and a doctorate in sustainable development from the University of Brasilia, as interim head of the institution on Tuesday.
The Brazilian president claimed that the data disclosed by INPE was “a lie” and that Galvao appeared to be “at the service of some nongovernmental organization,” with the intention of harming both Brazil and its government.
“It seems that this data was disclosed in bad faith to harm the government and wear down Brazil’s image,” the far-right leader said after the June figures were disclosed.
Reports on deforestation, however, are available to anyone through Inpe’s Real-Time Amazon Deforestation Detection System (Deter) which issues monthly deforestation and degradation alerts.
The numbers show that the deforestation registered in July (2,254 km²) is equivalent to more than a third of the total area decimated in the last 12 months, between August 2018 and July 2019 (6,833 km²).
Since campaigning for last October’s elections, Bolsonaro has been outspoken in favor of greater flexibility in Brazil’s environmental policies and his positions have caused controversy in the international community.
In recent weeks, the far-right president has reiterated his intention to allow artisanal mining in the indigenous lands of the Amazon states in order to boost the economy in the region, a measure widely criticized by non-governmental organizations.
However, Bolsonaro insisted Tuesday that his country has all the required technology to develop the Amazon region and claimed that the state of Roraima, for example, would have the potential to reach a state of development similar to that of Japan if it were not for its indigenous reserves and environmental protections.
“With technology, in 20 years we would have an economy in Roraima close to that of Japan. There is everything there, but 60 percent of the territory is immobilized with indigenous reserves and other environmental issues,” said the president in a speech during a meeting with businessmen in Sao Paulo.