By Gilbert Habarugaba - 25.
Central Africa is currently undergoing major forest fires bigger than those that are ravaging the Amazon.
Thousands of hectares have already been engulfed by the flames.
Yet next to no news reports on the fires in Angola and the DRC have surfaced in major global news channels. No hashtag campaigns or mass demonstrations have broken out, and the issue has not been placed on the G7 leaders’ agenda.
On the other side of the Atlantic, hundreds of thousands of hectares of Amazonian rainforests have been burning for several weeks, causing worldwide outcry and calls to stop the burning of the “green lung of the planet”.
Media coverage has successfully attracted the desired response.
Protest campaigns have been guided by pleas from social media influencers, while French President Emmanuel Macron declared “our house is burning,” and promised to put the Brazilian blazes at the top of the agenda as he hosts this weekend’s G7 summit in Biarritz.
Nevertheless, while the eyes of the world are rightly turning towards South America, other forests are also burning around the world and particularly in Central Africa.
After the huge fires of Siberia in early August (12 million hectares ravaged since January), it is now the African equatorial forest that has fallen prey to the flames.
As the French newspaper “La Voix du Nord” notes, “in Angola, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia, thousands of fires consume phenomenal amounts of vegetation”.
Since the beginning of 2019, it is the DR Congo that has recorded the most fires, far ahead of Brazil.
On Thursday and Friday, more fires were recorded in Angola and DR Congo than in Brazil, Bloomberg reported, citing NASA satellite data.
In those two days alone, 6,902 fires were recorded in Angola and 3,395 in the DRC. 2,127 were spotted in Brazil in the same period.
The study of maps produced using Copernicus (a European environmental study service) indicates that the Central African region currently concentrates the majority of biomass combustion (the burning of organic matter) in the world.
On a daily basis, Copernicus’ Atmosphere Monitoring service delivers data on biomass combustions around the world. Every summer, at the same time (during the southern winter of June 21 to September 22), the Central African zone seems to catch fire.
According to Nasa publications fires in sub-Saharan Africa account for about 70 percent of the world’s area burned, and the cause of these fires appear to be of “essentially agricultural” origin.
The US agency says Central African farmers are using fire to clear vast swats of forest or savannah, regenerate pastures and burn debris from cultivated land to prepare for the next season.
This technique, nicknamed “slash and burn” has the advantage of costing almost nothing; but on the other hand, it generates huge clouds of smoke which accelerates global warming and consequently climate change.