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Sustaining Natural Landscapes in Latin America

4.1 million hectares of forest destroyed by fire in Bolivia

by Marolyn Vidaurre 

This extension is similar to the size of Switzerland!

More than 40 days after the forest fires began, a loss of 4.1 million hectares is estimated throughout the national territory. In Bolivia, the department of Santa Cruz concentrates 71% of the total areas affected by fires nationwide and Chiquitania is the most affected region with more than 2,440,000 hectares burned. Additionally, there have been fires in 20 of the 22 protected areas in the country. Although it has been possible to control the fire in some sectors, strong winds and high temperatures are causing the flames to advance at 1,000 meters per day in a curtain greater than 45 kilometers.

Start of the forest fire

There are several factors that have favored the massive spread of fires. The first is related to the high temperatures recorded this year, the currents of El Niño and La Niña have marked a very dry year throughout the region with a water deficit greater than six months. The second is due to the practices of chaqueo that are carried out every year at this time, the chaqueos are fire caused by farmers that prepare the land for agriculture and for raising cattle. This year, the chaqueos have generated fire that have gone out of control due to extreme heat and drought conditions. Additionally, the controversial Supreme Decree 26075 approved by the State on July 9, which promotes the expansion of the agricultural frontier and allows “controlled burning” in areas of forest use, has triggered an unprecedented situation giving rise to a high number of chaqueos.

Impact on the communities

There are more than 33 surrounding communities that are in emergency, eight of which are in a critical situation. Amid the smoke and extreme heat conditions, families do not have water to drink, the little water that comes to them is full of ashes. Digestive problems, infections, cough and conjunctivitis have been reported. There are no activities, and school work has been suspended. 4,472 affected families are estimated according to Civil Defense report as of September 5, 2019.

Biodiversity Impact

The region affected by forest fires has a unique biodiversity. In general, more than 1,200 species of fauna, including 43 amphibians, 140 reptiles, 788 birds and 242 mammals are suffering the consequences of this disaster. The College of Biologists of La Paz established that in the Chiquitanía there are 3,500 species of plants, 200 of them are endemic and 554 species of fauna of which 35 species are endemic. Experts point out that the damage caused to biodiversity is irreversible, the forest will take 200 years to recover. The advance of fire is generating air, water and soil pollution, as well as species extinction.


In an interview with Tania (Nena) Baltazar, President and co-founder of the Inty Wara Yassi Community (CIWY), she explains that the scenario that is being lived in Bolivia is sad and bleak, there are more than four million hectares that are burning, and the fire is leaving ashes in its path. The impact on biodiversity is irreparable, many species have been affected. CIWY, like many other Bolivian organizations, have joined the cause. “Our volunteers are currently helping to put out the fire in Concepción and veterinarians are in the temporary shelter for wild animals affected by fires. However, very little is being found, barely 50 animals have been rescued with life in critical condition and with severe burns, most are already dead”, she said. Those animals that have managed to escape from the fire do not have food or water for weeks, so their hope of survival is very low. “In the Ambue Ari sanctuary we also suffered from fires, two years ago we lost 400 hectares of forest due to the chaqueos of surrounding communities, now we are taking all the provisions to prevent the entry of fire, a fire path has been built, inspections are carried out daily at this time of year especially in the surrounding area. Our task is to protect not only wild animals rescued from illegal traffic but also many other animals that have taken refuge in the center because of deforestation and chaqueos”, she continued.

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 What can you do?

The most important that you can do to support the well being of the families and the conservation of biodiversity in the Amazon is to be aware of your life style and levels of consumption with special attention of products that come from this region.

Bluoverda has made a small initiative to receive donations and assist CIWY in caring for animals refugees. If you also want to contribute, contact us!


Picture: September_2019 Coyright by CIWI