People at risk
The Amazon is home to 34 million people, including over 350 groups of indigenous peoples, some of them living in voluntary isolation. The fires caused serious social, economic and public health problems to many of its inhabitants. Where risks were high, women and children were evacuated. Volunteers worked arduously to put out fires with little or no training and often without basic equipment like masks and boots. Local communities lost their homes, land, and livelihoods to the flames. When the winds changed and the fire took a turn, one Bolivian community lost over $60,000 of sustainably harvested timber—the equivalent of one years’ income for the entire community.
Wildlife at risk
The Amazon is home to billions of animals—from tiny insects to jaguars. Many of them did not survive. Wildlife in the areas that burned tried to flee to other parts of the forest for safety. Some were burned alive. Many of the species most at risk from the flames were already under threat, including spider monkeys, hyacinth macaw, jaguar, harpy eagle, three-toed sloth, and lowland tapirs, among others.
The world at risk
There is a clear link between the health of the Amazon and the health of the planet. The massive rain forest, which contains 90 billion-140 billion metric tons of carbon, also recycles its own water, generates moisture, and helps stabilize the global climate. Losing more of the forest could release millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and push the system past its ecological tipping point, causing the region to become a source of CO2 instead of a sink.
It is estimated that Amazon’s tipping point can occur from 20%-25% deforestation, and we are already at around 20%. When this happens, a process of savanization begins, turning the rain forest into tropical grasslands, and the forest cannot fulfill its important role in the rain regime that underpins food, water and energy security for the region and globally.