Wildfires in Brazil
In 2019, the number of wildfires in Brazil doubled. Today, Brazil ranks first as the country with the most wildfires. Precipitated by deforestation, these wildfires threaten ecosystems as well as indigenous communities, farms, and living spaces. Thousands of farmers have lost their jobs due to the wildfires. Even worse, the fires have destroyed homes and pushed more people into poverty.


“There is no doubt that this rise in fire activity is associated with a sharp rise in deforestation,” Paulo Artaxo, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Sao Paulo, said. After chopping down trees, loggers set fires to clear the forest. These fires are not initially dangerous and in fact, are effective in killing excess vegetation. However, they often reignite later and percolate into other forests.

Wildfires in Brazil occur most prevalently in municipalities with heavy deforestation. Making matters worse is the fact that these municipalities are large – some being the size of small European countries. Five decades of Brazilian incentives to colonize the Amazon have inclined businesses to push into indigenous land, destroy forests and increase beef production.

In the first half of 2022, 3,980 square kilometers of the Amazon — an area five times larger than New York City — was cleared. Historically, the excess moisture in Brazil’s forests kept wildfires at bay. But due to climate change and deforestation, the rainforests are becoming drier, creating the perfect environment for fires. The cascading smoke and flames in Brazil not only increase climate change but are a clear indication of its consequences.

Economic and Societal Impact

Brazil has the highest frequency of wildfires in all of South America by far. The economic impact that these fires caused is substantial. These fires affect infrastructure, agriculture and forestry and compromise water sources. Furthermore, wildfires disrupt agricultural practices and push farmers into poverty. The fires also ravage crops and destroy farming homes. This is concerning as there are more than 98,000  agricultural businesses in Brazil. As wildfires increase, hundreds of thousands of farmers and their families are at serious risk of economic despair.

Studies have shown that regions with moderate to high wildfire risk tend to have greater levels of poverty. In Brazil, fire-induced poverty concentrates within indigenous communities. Fires disproportionately affect protected lands that indigenous people inhabited. Indigenous groups, however, rely entirely on the forest to meet their food, medicine and shelter needs. Atenor Vaz, an expert on isolated indigenous groups, stated that “Their culture is entirely based on the forest. If it catches on fire, there is no one to help… Food sovereignty is drastically reduced.”

In June 2022, the number of wildfires hit a 15-year high and is only predicted to increase — along with severe consequences for native communities. With reduced forestland, communities benefit less from natural ecosystem resources, thus damaging agricultural industries and increasing poverty across the board.

The physical health impact of the fires is also staggering. In 2019, it was estimated that nearly 5,000 premature deaths in Brazil were due to smoke exposure. Additionally, the toxic smoke from the wildfires is afflicting millions with chronic lung damage. This further immobilizes the Brazilian workforce and worsens unemployment.

Active Solutions

The good news is that many scientists and politicians are developing solutions to mitigate these surges of wildfires. Scientists are creating methods to detect wildfire eruptions early on. Statistics from temperature measuring, rainfall and time of year help people predict and react to wildfires. These predictions are largely accurate and lessen the severity of wildfires before and after they start.

Alternatively, farmers have also found ways to leverage fire to help their crops. If used properly, fire can do the work of pesticides, fertilizers and laborers all for free. This encourages farmers to keep fires from destroying crops while making the most of a restrained fire to reduce the use of pesticides.

Finally, according to a study published in ScienceDirect.com, “Policies favoring fire risk mitigation reduce degradation, CO2 emissions and poverty.” So far, the Brazilian government has used the military to mitigate wildfires while also banning unnecessary fires. This, however, falls short of a ban on deforestation — the primary cause. Without significantly decreasing deforestation, wildfires in Brazil will continue to grow and multiply.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service and USAID are partnering with Brazil Forest Management and Fire Prevention. They are planning to launch a five-year program to manage forest fires and facilitate the sustainable use of public land in Brazil. More importantly, this plan will promote indigenous rights and protection.

The heightened occurrence of wildfires in Brazil has pushed thousands of farmers, indigenous groups and residents into poverty and homelessness. Targeting the root cause of the issue — deforestation — and muting ongoing fires should be at the forefront of Brazil’s agenda.

– Ashwin Telang
Photo: Rawpixel

wildfires-in-greeceIn July 2022, Greece experienced a heatwave that led to several wildfires in the nation. The impacts of wildfires in Greece go beyond the destruction of the environment — these wildfires impact livelihoods, destroy homes and push people further into poverty. According to the World Bank, in 2019, 17.7% of Greece’s population lived under the national poverty line.

Increasing Incidents of Wildfires in Greece

Beginning on July 23, 2022, Greece endured a heatwave predicted to span at least 10 days with temperatures expected to hit about 107 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas. The same day, Greece endured four wildfires, which led to emergency evacuations of hundreds of citizens. The wildfires led to the destruction of homes, businesses and hotels. Several other wildfires preceded these wildfires in multiple areas of the country.

Greece saw 30 wildfires in the first quarter of the year, a massive uptick from the nation’s average of four in the same number of months. These wildfires led to the damage of almost 2,500 acres of land compared to Greece’s average of about 92 acres. Many people have also faced hospitalizations as a result of the fires.

Impact on Poverty

The wildfires in Greece have affected the entire population in one way or another and the poorer population face disproportionate impacts. Impoverished people do not have sufficient resources to easily rebuild their lives after losing their homes and possessions to wildfires.

Wildfires in Greece also impact the livelihoods of people, which further increases the risk of poverty. For example, in 2021, the Greek area of Evia experienced wildfires that destroyed the pine trees that people relied on for their livelihoods.

Giorgos Anagnostou provides a first-hand account of this to NPR. He is a pine resin producer and lives in a village where the majority of people survive by collecting pine resin, which they later sell for use “in everything from paint to pharmaceuticals.” In the aftermath of the wildfires, pine resin producer Thanasis Agiasofitis told NPR that he and others “will likely have to move to find work.” A 70-year-old farmer, Kostas Christodoulou, lost 400 sheep in wildfires last year. He survived by hiding in a small cave.

World Impact

To address the wildfires occurring in 2021, in the first week of August 2021, Greece along with several other Mediterranean countries requested help from the European Union (EU) to assist with the rampant forest fires. The European Union deployed nine airplanes, almost 1,000 firefighters and 200 vehicles to provide assistance to Greece.

In 2022, the EU set up a response “designed to lead to a permanent Europe-wide cooperation program,” according to Bloomberg. The aim is to scale-up efforts to address wildfire seasons in Europe overall. On July 2, 2022, the EU sent more than 200 firefighters from six European countries to Greece to assist with controlling the fires.

Looking Ahead

Aside from the impacts on the well-being of Greek citizens, wildfires in Greece are causing the country and the country’s people severe economic losses. Through the support of the EU, firefighters from across Europe are stepping in to assist Greek firefighters on the frontlines to prevent further losses.

Alex Peterson
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Effects of WildfiresThe effects of wildfires are destructive, deadly and devastating. Additionally, they are becoming increasingly frequent. From the west coast of the United States to Australia and Russia, wildfires are spreading like never before, wreaking havoc and adding unparalleled burden to the countries’ poor.

The Effects of Wildfires

Wildfires burden society by depleting resources, burdening the economies and impacting citizens’ health. Wildfires force the evacuation of people and often destroy homes and valuables. The University of Oregon Scholars Bank states that a person needs an income of twice the poverty line to be fully capable of protecting oneself, family and assets from fires. Thus, these fires have a disproportionate effect on the poor.

Wildfires Cause Depletion of Resources

One way in which wildfires are destructive is the depletion of resources. The burning of forests destroys properties, trees, vegetation and wildlife. Wildfires often strip families of everything they own in a matter of minutes.

In addition, these fires deplete not only air quality but water quality as well. As wildfires burn, they contaminate the water in streams, lakes and reservoirs which limits access to clean water. Thus, the affected area’s drinking water and food supply are not usable. Limited food and water supplies make it harder for the poor to live.

Wildfires Cause a Decrease in Economic Stability

Wildfires take a large toll on an affected areas’ economic security by causing economies to close. As a result of closing the economy, tourism decreases. The effects of wildfires make areas untravellable as they pose a massive threat to people and destroy forests and hiking trails that often draw tourists. In addition, the economy slowed due to the destruction of resources.

This lack of tourism and loss of resources cause loss of income in affected economies. So, as income from tourism decreases, the number of available low-paying service industry jobs decreases as well. This causes those already living on or below the poverty line to face greater financial hardships as hours and jobs are limited. Furthermore, as fires destroy forests and trees, jobs in the logging or wood chipping industries run scarce.

Wildfires Cause Strain on Human Health

Furthermore, wildfires pose a great threat to human health as their smoke depletes air quality. This can result in reduced lung function, bronchitis, heart failure and asthma among other things. The effects of wildfires on mental and physical health are long-lasting. These effects on health disproportionately affect the poor as they often have limited access to affordable healthcare.

The Increase in Wildfires Worldwide

Wildfires know no bounds and have begun to spread with increased frequency to places that have little to no previous experience with them. Siberia, a tundra that has had limited prior experience with fires, is now struggling to put out a fire that has burned upwards of 6.5 million acres. 

Similarly, in 2020, Australia suffered devastating wildfires that burned 44.5 million acres and killed upwards of 30 people. It killed large amounts of wildlife and devastated their environment. Likewise, Australians are feeling the effects of wildfires in Australia today. The Australian government did little to curtail the devastation of wildfires which led to countless protests by citizens.

The Good News

The devastating effects of wildfires worldwide are far from gone. However, through the increase in aid and wildfire-related programs, the goal to limit drastic spreads and devastation is possible.

The United States developed many fire-related programs that created job opportunities focused on research, fighting and prevention methods and landscape rehabilitation. These programs aim to limit the level of devastation associated with wildfires. Additionally, the USAID also provided humanitarian support to Australia throughout its 2020 wildfires.

With increased research and fire-related programs in addition to global support during times of active burns, the devastating impacts of wildfires can reduce. Thus, they will lower the impacts on communities and preventing an increased burden on the poor.

– Lily Vassalo
Photo: Flickr

Wildfires in SiberiaIn the summer of 2021, Russia experienced the driest weather in 150 years which caused wildfires in Siberia. Smoke covers the Yakutia region in particular and is destroying the Taiga forest around Teryut. Locals to this area, in part blaming an inadequate response to the fires by the Russian government, are beginning to help fight the fires.

What is at Stake

In 2020, the wildfires in Siberia destroyed 60,000 square miles of forest and tundra. This is equivalent to four times the area that burned in the United States in the same year.

For Russia, this means that the fires destroy drastic amounts of the boreal forest. It also releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere. This can contribute to higher temperatures overall. The forests in Siberia also have permafrost beneath them. This is part of the earth that stays frozen all year long. When fires blaze through the area, the permafrost melts, altering the dynamic of the forest itself. Instead of being the forest it has always been, the area has become much more swamp-like.

In the Yakutia region in particular, where the fires are decimating the Taiga forest, villagers’ livelihoods are at stake. People typically rely on the forest for food, including berries and meat. Additionally, they use wood to build structures and for warmth. The destruction of this resource can have a detrimental impact on the people who live there, especially the people who cannot afford to relocate.

Wildfires and Poverty

The destruction that wildfires create has a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty. People living below the poverty line often do not have insurance protecting their houses from such a catastrophe. They also may not have the resources needed to either rebuild a destroyed house or to move to another area.

A study that the National Bureau of Economic Research completed released results in 2020 that analyzed 90 years of data recorded during natural disasters. It concluded that when natural disasters occur, the poverty rate in that country increases by about 1%. This is a result of the migration of higher-income people. However, those unable to move often end up in even worse conditions than before.

How Locals Have Stepped in for the Government

One reason why the local villagers are volunteering to join fire fighting crews is the lack of response from the Russian government. The locals have put the main blame for the wildfires on the government’s unpreparedness for such a disaster. The government made budget cuts to forestry and banned getting rid of dry grass in high-risk areas and the hot summers.

The Russian government turned to conspiracy theories this time. It hypothesized that people hoping to make a profit set the fires on purpose. There are ongoing criminal investigations against authorities for not doing enough to fight the fires.

Most Recently

Locals have been doing the best they can given their lack of training and preparedness. Thankfully, the Russian government has recognized the severity of the situation in Siberia and has sent military planes in to assist the fight. These planes have dropped an estimated 370 tons of water onto the fires covering 2 million acres of land.

With the locals and the government working together, hopes are high that the joint effort can combat the fires effectively. While the government may not have done as much as it could have in the beginning, it did take action to help the situation. Hopefully, it will be able to effectively help to fight and prevent wildfires in Siberia in the future. In order to help and protect those living under the poverty line, this will likely be necessary.

– Alessandra Heitmann
Photo: Flickr