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Yes, more fires are burning in sub-Saharan Africa than in Brazil. But context is important

ECOLOGY
5 Sep, 2019

Article from: CNN

Author: AJ Willingham

If you look at the data from NASA's Fire Information for Resource Management Map (FIRMS), which show a large swatch of fire across Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The alarming area of these fires has left some people wondering why so much attention is being paid to the Amazon, while on the surface it appears Africa is alight with even more blazes. Even French President Emmanuel Macron, who has led the charge for international relief and solutions for the Amazon wildfire and has pledged aid from France, said on Twitter that he would consider starting a similar initiative for sub-Saharan Africa.

However, there are several things to consider when comparing the two situations.

    More fires don't mean more dire

    Chiefly, the idea of "more" fires doesn't necessarily translate into a more dire situation.

    Satellite data like that from FIRMS doesn't give the cause or type of fire, which means things like controlled burns or brush fires appear the same to the eye as forest fires. Correspondents at CNN's bureau in Lagos, Nigeria, have been told many of the fires in central Africa around Angola and the Congo are the result of controlled fires by farmers, and preliminary data shows the number or acreage of the fires may actually be a bit below normal levels.

    Many of them are controlled fires

    An image NASA released of the agricultural fires in Angola and West Africa in 2015 seemed, at first glance, alarming: Thousands of red dots were spread across the continent, a situation that looked like an emergency. However, NASA concluded "the location, widespread nature, and number of fires suggest that these fires were deliberately set to manage land."

    Fires like this can actually help the immediate areas around them, as they increase soil quality and clear out areas for new crops to grow. However, NASA points out, they aren't without their risks.

    "While fire helps enhance crops and grasses for pasture, the fires also produce smoke that degrades air quality," the report says.

      The situation in the Amazon is different

      The fires there are resulting in deforestation, a completely different kind of destruction. Plus, while fires that endanger lives or the environment are always something to be concerned about, there's a reason fires in the Amazon are of particular concern: The Amazon is home to 10% of the world's plants and animals, and estimates show that nearly 20% of the oxygen produced by the Earth's land comes from the region's rain forests. That's why you've often heard the Amazon referred to as the "world's lungs." If the rainforest is severely damaged, scientists worry that it could hasten the effects of climate change.