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World Leaders Promise Millions to End Amazon Wildfires

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World leaders have promised tens of millions of dollars to help South American countries fight wildfires burning in the Amazon rainforest.

Leaders of seven industrial countries offered $20 million on Monday at the G7 meetings in France. The Associated Press reported that Canada's prime minister separately offered $11 million in aid and to send firefighting airplanes to Brazil. It is unclear how exactly the money would be spent.

Brazil's environment minister said the aid was welcome and that his government should decide how the resources would be used.

Earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera spoke to reporters at the G7 meetings. Pinera was a visitor to the summit.

The two leaders likened the Amazon to the 'lungs' of the planet. They noted how the rainforest takes in carbon dioxide gas and creates oxygen.

Macron said France will provide military support to fight the fires. He had threatened to block a European Union trade deal with Latin American countries unless Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro took serious steps to fight the fires.

Indigenous people from the Mura tribe show a deforested area in unmarked indigenous lands inside the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil August 20, 2019. Picture taken August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Indigenous people from the Mura tribe show a deforested area in unmarked indigenous lands inside the Amazon rainforest near Humaita, Amazonas State, Brazil August 20, 2019. Picture taken August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

In the past, Bolsonaro has questioned the science behind the idea of climate change. Under pressure from other countries to protect the rainforest, the Brazilian leader on Sunday sent two C-130 Hercules aircraft to help put out the fires.

Macron said the United States supported the aid offer to the South American countries. However, U.S. President Donald Trump did not attend the G7 meetings on the environment.

In 2019, more than 75,000 fires have been reported in the Amazon, with many of them starting in the past month. Some observers have accused farmers of setting the fires to clear lands for farming.

At first, Bolsonaro said the fires were not a problem. He then questioned if environmental groups might have started the fires in an effort to damage the standing of his government. Bolsonaro has called for an easing of environmental rules in the world's largest rainforest to increase development.

Thousands of people have demonstrated in cities across Brazil and around Brazilian embassies around the world. The hashtag #PrayforAmazonia has become a trending topic on social media.

On Friday, Brazil's president announced he would send 44,000 soldiers to help fight the fires. The fires seem to be mostly burning in parts of the Amazon that have been deforested, perhaps illegally, for farming.

Some people say Bolsonaro's decision came too late.

"No (Brazilian) democratic government has suffered such international criticism as Bolsonaro is going through," said Mauricio Santoro. He is an international relations professor at Rio de Janeiro State University.

"Brazil has been discredited…and unable to exercise any…leadership on the international stage," he added.

Brazilian military planes began dropping water on fires in the Amazon state of Rondonia over the past few days. A few hundred troops were deployed directly into the fire zone.

A student writes placards before a protest march demanding protection for the Amazon rainforest near the consulate of Brazil in Kolkata, India, August 26, 2019.
A student writes placards before a protest march demanding protection for the Amazon rainforest near the consulate of Brazil in Kolkata, India, August 26, 2019.

On Sunday, many Brazilians protested in Rio de Janeiro and other cities to demand the government do more. Some held signs that read: "Bol$onaro is burning our future."

Bolsonaro has described rainforest protections as a problem for Brazil's economic growth. Critics say the large number of fires this year has been caused by his encouragement of farmers and others to increase efforts to remove trees from the forest.

"The international pressure today has a bigger impact than the demonstrations by Brazilians on the streets," Santoro said.

Brazil's National Space Research Institute watches for signs of deforestation across the country. It has recorded more than 77,000 wildfires in Brazil this year, an 85-percent increase over this time last year. About half of the fires have been in the Amazon.

Brazil's federal police said Sunday it would investigate reports that some farmers had organized a "day of fire" to show support for Bolsonaro's efforts to ease environmental rules.

Justice Minister Sergio Moro said on Twitter that "the criminal fires will be severely punished."

I'm Mario Ritter.

And I'm Ashley Thompson.

The Associated Press and VOA News reported this story. Susan Shand adapted the information for VOA Learning English. The editor was George Grow.

Words In This Story

resource – n. a supply of something (such as money) that someone has and can use when it is needed?

trending topic – n. an issue or idea that has become popular on social media

encouragement – n. the act of making something more appealing or more likely to happen

impact – n. the act of making something more appealing or more likely to happen

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