Scientists warn that people living in tropical regions from Brazil to Indonesia may face a heightened risk for COVID-19 complications due to particulate matter released from forest fires (Reuters, Reuters). Forest fires tend to peak from August to October in the Brazilian Amazon, while the forest fire season in Indonesia runs from April to October (Reuters). Experts caution that these fires will especially hurt populations already experiencing high rates of COVID-19, including Indigenous and Amazonian communities in the city of Manaus, Brazil, and Colombia’s Amazonas province (Reuters).

Environmental enforcement in the Amazon has decreased since 2019, accelerating deforestation and raising the public health risk of forest fires (New York Times). Forest fires do not occur naturally in tropical biomes; rather, newly deforested areas are typically set on fire during drier months to prepare the land for cattle grazing. Researchers from the Amazon Conservation Association have already discovered the first fires of 2020 several months ahead of the season’s expected peak in August and September (Mongabay). According to a Brazilian government agency, deforestation in the Amazon rose 55% from January to April compared to last year. Meanwhile, coronavirus has killed 34,000 people in Brazil, which currently has the highest daily number of deaths in the world (New York Times). 

Ane Alencar, the director of science at the think tank Ipam Amazônia, cites lack of environmental enforcement during the pandemic as a leading cause of increased deforestation and fire risk (New York Times). Alencar and other scientists have called for businesses and consumers who consume beef, leather, soy, and other Brazilian commodities to pressure Brazil to take action (Reuters).