As world leaders gather their resources to fight the forest fires which are devastating the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, satellite images from NASA have revealed a similar inferno raging across southern Africa.
The burning forests cover an area of more than a million square miles in the Congo Basin, often described as the ‘second green lung’ of the planet after the Amazon itself.
Like the Amazon, the African forests absorb CO2 and are sanctuaries for endangered species.
Under pressure from environmentalists, G7 leaders have this week hurried to take action against the Amazon blaze, but the African fires have attracted less attention.
Still, French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday declared that ‘the forest is burning in sub-Saharan Africa too’ and said world leaders were examining a similar response to the one they agreed for Brazil.
This NASA image shows fires raging just as strongly in sub-Saharan Africa as in the Amazon rainforest in South America, where the fires have attracted global attention
A fire burns along the road to Jacunda National Forest in Brazil on Monday. G7 nations have pledged $20 million on the Amazon, mainly on fire-fighting aircraft
The African forests cover several countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Congo, Cameroon and Madagascar.
According to Weather Source, there were more fires in a 48-hour period in Angola last week than there were in Brazil. The same was true of Congo.
‘The forest burns in Africa but not for the same causes,’ said Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, an ambassador and climate negotiator for the DR Congo.
‘In the Amazon, the forest burns mainly because of drought and climate change, but in central Africa, it is mainly due to agricultural techniques.’
Many farmers use slash-and-burn farming to clear forest. In DR Congo, only nine percent of the population has access to electricity and many people use wood for cooking and energy.
DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi has warned the rainforests are threatened if the country does not improve its hydro-electric capacity.
Deforestation is also a risk in Gabon and parts of the DR Congo, as well as damage from mining and oil projects.
The African forests cover several countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Congo, Cameroon and Madagascar
The Amazon fires (pictured) across the world’s largest rainforest, which experts have blamed on rampant deforestation, have triggered a global outcry
Firefighters work to put out fires along the road to Jacunda National Forest, near the city of Porto Velho in Brazil, on Monday
Brazililan trible leader Raoni Metuktire, centre, a figurehead of the fight against deforestation in the Amazon, arrives for a press conference in France yesterday
Still, some experts and politicians have urged caution about comparing the situations in Africa and South America.
Many of the fires shown on the NASA maps of Africa are outside sensitive rainforest areas, analysts say.
‘The question now is to what extent we can compare,’ said Philippe Verbelen, a Greenpeace forest campaigner working on the Congo Basin.
‘Fire is quite a regular thing in Africa. It’s part of a cycle, people in the dry season set fire to bush rather than to dense, moist rainforest.’
Guillaume Lescuyer, a central African expert at the French agricultural research and development centre CIRAD, also said the fires seen in NASA images were mostly burning outside the rainforest.
Angola’s government also urged caution, saying swift comparisons to the Amazon may lead to ‘misinformation of more reckless minds’.
G7 nations have pledged $20 million on the Amazon, mainly on fire-fighting aircraft.
A fire burns along a road in the Amazon on Monday. Some experts and politicians have urged caution about comparing the situations in Africa and South America
Brazilian farmer Aurelio Andrade and a dog walk through a burnt area of the Amazon rainforest, near Porto Velho, on Monday
A political row over the Amazon forest fires yesterday descended into a personal one between Presidents Emmanuel Macron and Jair Bolsonaro (pictured together in June)
‘We must respond to the call of the forest which is burning today in the Amazon,’ Macron said at the G7 summit.
President Sebastian Pinera of Chile, who was also at the gathering in Biarritz, said ‘countries of the Amazon are in dire need of fire brigades and water bomber planes.’
Environmental campaigners say the Western world has been too slow to respond to the Amazon fires.
Nearly 80,000 forest fires have been detected in Brazil since the beginning of the year – just over half of them in the massive Amazon basin.
Macron has threatened to block a huge new trade deal between the EU and Latin America unless Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a climate change sceptic, takes serious steps to protect the fast-shrinking forest from logging and mining.
Bolsonaro lashed out at the French leader over his criticism and suggested NGOs could be setting the fires to embarrass him, without giving any evidence.
Their row descended into personal attacks when Bolsonaro endorsed a sexist Facebook post about France’s 66-year-old first lady Brigitte Macron.
A Bolsonaro supporter shared a meme mocking the appearance of Mrs Macron and compared her unfavourably with Brazil’s 37-year-old first lady Michelle Bolsonaro.
The right wing Brazilian leader, 64, replied: ‘Do not humiliate the guy, ha ha,’ referring to the French President.
Macron blasted the ‘extraordinarily rude’ Bolsonaro in response.
Bolsonaro then hit back again, accusing Macron of treating Brazil like ‘a colony or no-man’s land.’
A Bolsonaro supporter posted this meme mocking Brigitte Macron, 66, and comparing her unfavourably with Brazil’s first lady 37-year-old Michelle Bolsonaro. It says: ‘Now you understand why Macron is persecuting Bolsonaro?’ The far-right Brazilian leader replied: ‘Do not humiliate the guy, ha ha,’ referring to Mr Macron
Bolsonaro, pictured with his wife, endorsed a social media post comparing Mr Macron’s wife unfavourably with his own wife Michelle, pictured with the Brazilian leader in January
The French President (pictured with wife Brigitte at the G7 in Biarritz, France on Saturday) accused Bolsonaro of saying ‘very disrespectful things about my wife’