A new study indicated that every hectare of forest burned causes the spread of diseases that cost at least two million US dollars to treat.
Estimates also indicate that there are 15 million cases of respiratory, cardiovascular, and vascular diseases every year in Brazil alone, costing the healthcare system two billion US dollars.
According to the study published on April 6th in the journal Communications Earth & Environment, preserving the Amazon rainforest can prevent thousands of cases of deadly respiratory, cardiovascular, and vascular diseases, and significantly reduce healthcare costs in some cities in the region where forests have been cleared.
The Amazon rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest in the world, spanning over 6.7 million square kilometers in nine countries in South America. It is home to an estimated 40,000 plant species, 2.5 million insect species, and over two thousand bird and mammal species.
The Amazon rainforest plays a vital role in regulating the Earth’s climate, preserving global biodiversity, and providing essential ecosystem services to humans.
High ability to absorb pollutants
In this regard, the lead author of the study, Paula Breysse, a researcher at the EcoHealth Alliance organization, stated that forests all over the world have the ability to absorb pollutants from fires through pores on leaf surfaces. However, this current study is the first to estimate the tropical forests’ ability to perform this function.
Breysse added in a statement to Al Jazeera that the results indicate that rainforests in the Amazon can absorb up to 26,000 metric tons of particles annually, and that indigenous-populated areas are responsible for 27% of this absorption, while covering only 22% of the rainforest.
The team’s analysis showed that the Brazilian Amazon region becomes one of the most polluted areas in the world during the forest fire season from the end of July to November every year.
Forest fires are responsible for 90% of the global particle emissions released by fires, including those that occur in the Amazon basin.
According to the study, forest fires in the Amazon basin destroyed 519,000 hectares of forests between May 19 and October 31, 2021, as Brazil lost most of its forest cover due to those fires.
“Before it’s too late”
The Brazilian authorities have so far only recognized the legal rights of indigenous populations in five regions in the Brazilian Amazon, which are located in the densely forested western region and represent 8% of the rainforest’s capacity to absorb particles from forest fires. These five regions include 383 recognized areas for indigenous populations, covering an area of over 1.16 million square kilometers.
As the lead author states, the study’s results “suggest that action is needed now – before fire season – to protect indigenous peoples and their forests as a public health issue. Failure to recognize the land rights of indigenous peoples in the Amazon may lead to forest removal from their lands and increased reported cases of diseases, as well as significant increases in healthcare costs, especially in areas where forests have already been removed.”
The researcher explained that the current study’s results and previous studies clearly indicate the ability of local communities of indigenous populations in the Amazon basin to better maintain these forests.
Previous studies have also shown that managing the lands of indigenous populations protects large forest areas from forest fires, and that the Amazon rainforest protects neighboring areas from smoke damage, according to the press release published on the “EurekAlert” website.
The authors concluded that indigenous population areas may provide health and economic benefits to populations living 500 kilometers away from the location of the fires.