News World ‘Apocalypse’: Brazil’s largest city in plunged into darkness as Amazon fires rage

‘Apocalypse’: Brazil’s largest city in plunged into darkness as Amazon fires rage

A handout picture provided by Porto Velho's Firefighters shows a fire at the Brazilian Amazonia, in Porto Velho in Brazil on August 18. Photo: AAP
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Brazilians have been plunged into darkness after the worst rainforest fires in history cut a swathe through the Amazon rainforest.

Sao Paulo, the largest city on the American continent, has been blanketed by vast plumes of smoke from fires which blocked the sun and turned the sky black from 3pm (local time).

Concerned locals have taken to social media to show a city that has been thrust into afternoon darkness.

Some have likened it to an impending apocalypse.

The country’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has accused non-governmental organisations of being behind the fires, burning down the Amazon rainforest to hurt his government, as a growing global outcry  rages through social media.

Presented without evidence and disputed by environmental and climate experts, Mr Bolsonaro’s comments enraged critics and fanned a growing social media campaign over the dangers to the Amazon, one of the world’s key bulwarks against climate change.

#PrayforAmazonas was the world’s top trending topic on Twitter on Wednesday, and millions of people took to Instagram and Facebook to share concerns over the future of the Amazon.

With global awareness growing, Mr Bolsonaro’s comments risk creating a spiralling crisis for his government, imperiling an EU-Mercosur trade pact and upsetting key agribusiness clients.

‘‘Everything indicates’’ that NGOs were going to the Amazon to ‘‘set fire’’ to the forest, Mr Bolsonaro said in a Facebook Live broadcast on Wednesday.

When asked if he had evidence to back up his claims, he said he had ‘‘no written plan,’’ adding “that’s not how it’s done.’’

The former army captain turned politician said the slashing of NGO funding by his government could be a motive.

‘‘Crime exists,’’ he said. ‘‘These people are missing the money.’’

Mr Bolsonaro said his administration was working to control the Amazon fires, which have reached a record number this year. Brazil’s space research centre, INPE, has detected 72,843 fires so far in 2019, an 83 per cent increase on the same period in 2018.

Environmental and climate experts labelled his claims that NGOs were responsible a ‘‘smoke screen’’ to hide his government’s dismantling of protections for the world’s largest tropical rainforest.

They said farmers clearing land were responsible for the uptick in fires.

‘‘This is a sick statement, a pitiful statement,’’ said Marcio Astrini, Greenpeace Brazil’s public policy coordinator. ‘‘Increased deforestation and burning are the result of his anti-environmental policy.’’

Mr Bolsonaro, a long-time sceptic of environmental concerns, wants to open the Amazon to more agriculture and mining, and has told other countries worried about rising deforestation under his watch to mind their own business.

Congressman Nilto Tatto, leader of the lower house environment caucus, said Mr Bolsonaro’s ‘‘stunning’’ attack on NGOs was an attempt to obscure his administration’s destruction of 30 years of Brazilian environmental protections.

Mr Bolsonaro also took aim at the Paris climate accord, saying that if it were so good, the US would have stayed in it. But he added that for the time being, Brazil would remain in the pact.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned in June he would not sign the EU-Mercosur trade treaty if Mr Bolsonaro pulled Brazil out of the Paris accord.