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Devastating wildfires prompt state of emergency in Paraguay

paraguay-wildfires-october-2020

Paraguay has declared a national state of emergency as more than 5 000 wildfires rage amid drought and record hot temperatures across South America.

Paraguay’s Congress declared a national emergency on Thursday, October 1 as more wildfires broke out, scorching wide swaths of the Chaco dry forest. The declaration is to boost financial aid for fire-fighting and open the door for seeking international help.

Two firefighting aircraft had arrived in the country, set to douse the worst-hit regions.

A total of 5 231 individual forest fires have been raging across the country, with most of them concentrated in the Chaco region. The thick smoke had reached as far as the capital Asuncion.

Joaquin Roa, the chief of the National Emergency Secretariat, said the Chaco region was a "breeding ground" for wildfires, with air temperatures rising. 

"All the fires that have been generated are controlled but we have not won the battle, we cannot lower our guard," Roa added.

The country is also experiencing a heatwave and had registered a record high of 45.5 °C (113.9 °F) last week. 

Guillermo Achucarro, a climate policy researcher at Asuncion's Base-IS research center, linked the fires to the country's environmental record, with cattle ranching impacting some of the world's highest rates of deforestation.

"There is a terrible, inefficient, non-existent environmental management in all areas: water, forested areas, waste management," he said. "Now, we’re literally tasting the environmental crisis: we’re breathing smoke."

Vice-President Hugo Velasquez, on the other hand, claimed that the fires were started by residents burning their waste. Cristina Goralewski, head of the National Forestry Institute, blamed land invasions and illegal marijuana cultivation.

Image credit: NASA/NOAA SuomiNPP/VIIRS

In Brazil, the Amazon is recording its worst fires in a decade. Argentina had also seen a record number of fires along the Parana River, with multiple locations in the country gripped by devastating blazes. 

Paraguay’s Directorate of Meteorology expects no rainfall until October 7.

Featured image credit: NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP/VIIRS

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