State of emergency in Bolivia

Forest fires threaten indigenous habitat (Press Release)

This year, Bolivia is particularly affected by forest fires as well, and a state of emergency has now been declared throughout the country. According to figures by the Bolivian environmental protection organization Fundacíon Amigos de la Naturaleza, about 23,000 square kilometers of rainforest fell victim to the flames between January and mid-September 2020 – about nine times the area of the Saarland. This corresponds to an increase of 42 percent over the previous year. "Indigenous communities are dependent on the land for their livelihood. Burnt land is no longer available to them in the long term," explained Juliana Miyazaki, expert on indigenous communities at the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). "In addition, the scarce water resources – the little water they used to get from wells and groundwater pumps – is now being used to fight the fires.

As in other South American countries, the fires were caused by a mixture of climate change and political failure. "Some of the fires have their origin in Brazil. In Bolivia too, however, slash-and-burn is a common method to make room for agriculture – as approved by former president Evo Morales," Miyazaki criticized. "The according decree was only recently repealed. But the heat, the drought, and strong winds are now contributing to the spread of the fires. They are still far from being under control." The rapid spread of the fires makes it difficult to evacuate the indigenous communities from the affected areas. The massive gusts of smoke also lead to respiratory diseases.