EL ESPECTADOR, February 8, 2022
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Academics and experts on the environment joined together to draft a letter to President Iván Duque and the Minister of Environment, Carlos Correa, asking them to protect this region, which is experiencing an alarming situation.
The tragedy that Amazonia has been living through in recent weeks moved more than 180 academics and environmental experts to draft a letter to President Duque and to the Minister of Environment, Carlos Correa, urging them to stop the deforestation in Amazonia.
After reminding them that in recent weeks in the northern part of the Colombian Amazon Biome, there have been burns and fires, “associated with the seizure of forests over vast expanses of forest in Caquetá,” and that in Guaviare, they declared a red alert in the whole department, “urging that they take immediate steps to end this alarming situation.”
“It’s crucial to design and implement a road map that could mobilize the Colombian Army in a concerted way, every firefighter in the country, civil defense, and our Air Force, so that they could intervene and put a stop to this environmental tragedy that is going to impose enormous social and ecological costs. It’s unacceptable that in these protected territories, like the Tinigua National Natural Park, the Macarena Highlands, and the Lindosa Highlands, the firefighters have to depend on volunteers to put out the fires, and they don’t even have water or air transport systems to smother the blazes,” they wrote.
The signers asked Duque and Correa to take preventive action, not reactive. “This is a tragedy foretold, and year after year in the dry season, we watch with sorrow and impotence while Amazonia burns. In the months of November and December of 2021, we saw the conditions generated for the worst fires of the last 15 years. Great quantities of accumulated wood, a particularly dry season (more than 40 days without rain), a fortified dynamic of land seizure, impunity for the biggest deforesters, the failure of a timely and effective government response, are all bringing northern Amazonas to an irreparable breakdown,” they added.
Among the signers are, with others, Professor Sandra Vilardy, of the University of the Andes; Maritza Duque, Professor at Northern University; Ernesto Guhl, a member of the Colombian Academy of Physical, Natural, and Exact Sciences; Paola Andrea Arias, Professor at the School of the Environment at the University of Antioquia; Juan Camilo Cárdenas, Professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and at the University of the Andes; Carlos Daniel Cadena, Dean of the Science Faculty at the University of the Andes; Angela M. Maldonado, Director of the Entropika Foundation and President of the Departmental Network for Oversight of Amazonas; andMaría Constanza Meza, of the Research Group on Ecology of Landscape and Ecosystem Modeling at Colombia’s National University. (The complete list appears at the conclusion of the letter.)
For these professors, “what’s at stake is the loss of biodiversity on which the life of the planet depends, and the worsening of the climate crisis.”
A little further on, they explain it in more detail. “The Amazon biome plays a vital role in the availability of water for human consumption, by way of the “flying rivers”, the capacity for retention of water, and the “evapotranspiration”. Because of the fires, we are emitting carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, which are gases that have a greenhouse effect of such magnitudes that they even affect other countries, which makes us responsible internationally if we don’t act immediately.”
According to the researchers, “the current levels of emission are so alarming that they are only comparable with some industrial areas in China, which is completely contrary to the Paris Agreement, the COP26, and the Glasgow declaration on deforestation, of which Colombia is a signer, especially when we know that there are always fires at this time of the year.”
What they are asking is that, “a complete shock strategy should be deployed to put out the fires, together with legal action against those who finance the burning and the land seizures, as well as a greater government presence in the areas that have traditionally been marginalized. The legal tools already exist, and the current administration itself established the crime of deforestation in Statute 2111 of 2021, creating environmental crimes. It’s necessary to strengthen detection of fires with satellite equipment, to implement exemplary penalties for those who have done these things, and to exclude forests that have been seized and burned from the agricultural cadaster.”
“The failure to act could lead to a catastrophe unprecedented in this country, with global as well as local implications, besides being irreversible. That’s not all; on February 5, Bogotá declared an emergency environmental and hospital alert, in part because of the contaminated air resulting from the fires in Guaviare and Orinoquía,” they added.
After reminding them that the PNN are fundamental, not just for Colombia but for the whole planet, they asked the government for “. . . an immediate mobilization of the Colombian Army, with the support of firefighters from all over the country, civil defense, and the FAC (Colombian Air Force), with air transportation systems for water, and tools to mitigate this tragedy, all working together with the Unified Command Unit. We also request that they activate international channels to solicit immediate help from other countries to confront the crisis that we were not capable of preventing.”
“We, the signers of this letter, are calling for immediate action by the Colombian government to reinforce monitoring for preventing and punishing the crime of deforestation. We are open to adding to the constructive and participatory building of solutions that are through and sustainable (. . .). Again we ask the government to fortify monitoring to prevent and punish the crime of deforestation. Act NOW!” they conclude.