Why We Should Not Use the Fires in Angola to Forget the Amazon Dilemma

On August 23, 2019, I was appalled by Bloomberg’s article suggesting that “more fires were burning in Angola and Congo than Amazon”. Its opening paragraph was full of bombast and written with a clear intention to underestimate the Amazon situation by comparing it to what happened in Angola at the same time: “Blazes burning in the Amazon have put heat on the environmental policies of President Jair Bolsonaro, but Brazil is actually third in the world in wildfires over the last 48 hours.”

Quickly, I started to question the veracity of those data, as well as questioning why neither the Angolan government nor the general media have reported on extremely serious environmental issues taking place in Angola. Then, I thought with me: if Angola, a smaller country than Brazil, was experiencing more fires than those of Amazonia, its president, João Lourenço, should probably issue a state of emergency and start to fight the fires to avoid irreparable damages. 

Photo: Arcanjo Wacunzo

Given the lack of publicly accessible data regarding those fires from reliable Angolan sources, I invited my friend Aires R. Gonguela to join me on investigating the veracity of the data, released by Bloomberg and why the Angolan government is failing to responsibly inform their citizens on that matter. 

Equally curious about Bloomberg’s article, Aires looked at data compiled by NASA, collected in real-time by MODIS (C6) on active fires. It provided him with three data sets: one on fires in the past 24 hours, one on the past 48 hours, and a third one on the past seven days. Using GIS software (ArcGIS online, specifically), Aires was able to create an interactive web application, which displays the three datasets over a world map.

The following link is for the interactive world fire map:https://msugis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/InteractiveLegend/index.html?appid=5a20ec8029714652a752505561e5a0bc (World-Wide active Fire)

Furthermore, Aires clipped the data and kept only the data that fell within the Angolan border over the last 48 hours, counting from August 23, 2019. 

The following link is for the interactive map on the Angolan Active Fire 24H, 48H:

https://msugis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/TimeAware/index.html?appid=103042300fd044c385e6c273dd92d9a4 (Angola Active Fire)

According to these findings, in Angola, there have been 6,368 fires in the last 24 hours, 11,099 fires in the past 48 hours, and 26,624 over the past seven days, using August 23 as the baseline. For more information about what NASA’s satellites collected on the Angolan fires, you can click on the individual points on the two interactive maps in this article. 

After reading Bloomberg’s article and reviewing NASA’s database on fires in Angola in the last 24 hours, 48 hours, and 7 days counting from August 23, we came to understand that Angola has indeed registered more fires than Brazil. The numbers released in Bloomberg’s article seem to be accurate. However, by no means, we should use this information to deviate the public opinion and attention from what is happening in the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon rainforest is burning at an unprecedented rate, as informed by various local and international news agencies, and those fires are consequences of vast deforestation carried out by businesses for farming, cattle ranching, and logging, and many other economically driven activities. 

The Amazon rainforest is burning at an unprecedented rate.

According to CNN, this year alone, “Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (known as “INPE”) has reported 72,843 fires in the country, with more than half of these being seen in the Amazon region”. Also, according to INPE, “ an 80% increase in deforestation has occurred so far this year compared to last year”, 2018. In fact, “the vast majority of these fires are human-lit”, Christian Poirier, the program director of non-profit organization Amazon Watch, told CNN Unlike other ecosystems such as the Savannahs, the Amazon does not experience periodic natural fires and human-made fires have catastrophic consequences to the rainforest.

While some people choose to ignore, the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest will bring about devastating consequences to Brazil and the entire globe. Dark skies over Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil and located more than 1,700 miles away from the Amazon, is just a small indicator and local hint of a larger global environmental dilemma, which is expected to unfold soon. Moreover, indigenous populations are being extremely affected by such inhumane, discriminatory, and inconsiderate human practices. Apart from losing their original habitat, traditions, and cultural values to the fires, these indigenous peoples are, on top of that, losing their main source of life.

Whereas, the fires in Angola are more in numbers than those in Brazil. However, they are far from reaching the size of those in the Amazon. Although we have not yet conducted a deep scientific investigation on the Angolan fires size, eyewitnesses and images collected in some of the burning sites, in Angola, have demonstrated very small-scale fires. 

Photo: Arcanjo Wacunzo

Even though we should not use the fires in Angola to undermine or minimize the Amazon dilemma, we should still care about the Angolan fires because they are polluting the environment and damaging local ecosystems. Additionally, we urge the Angolan government to take clear and reasonable measures to stop those fires from causing further damage and to conduct research or, at very least, promote environmental and academic policies that incentivize scientific studies regarding wildfires in Angola, as well as other environmental issues so that students and researchers can have access to credible local sources of data to advance their environmental studies. Those measures should also be followed by an open press conference to educate the public on those issues, prevent people from speculating and panicking.

We should still care about the Angolan fires because they are polluting the environment and damaging local ecosystems

To sum it all, the Amazon rainforest is under extreme threat. Therefore, the world should come together as one to support and pressure the Brazilian authorities to save it from further damage as it serves as “lung of the Earth”, has vast and important biodiversity, and, most importantly, houses various indigenous populations. For these and many other reasons, deforestation should be discouraged whether it be in Angola, Brazil or elsewhere. 


Aires R. Gonguela is a GIS Analyst, a Mathematician, and a Spatial Ninja

Pedro Domingos Paposseco Manuel is an international and area studies researcher, holding an undergraduate degree in International and Area Studies and another one in Public Affairs and Administration with a minor in Political Sciences.