The Brazilian Amazon lost 1,698 square kilometres of its vegetation cover in August, an area 222 per cent higher than the deforestation recorded in the same month in 2018, data released by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) shows.
Although the total deforestation was slightly less than in the previous month, the destruction of the vegetation cover of the world’s largest rainforest continued to grow compared to last year, INPE said on Sunday.
In July, the area of destroyed forest in the Amazon had reached 2,254.8 km2, a 278-per cent growth, compared to the loss of land registered in the same month last year at 596.6 km2.
The sharp increase in deforestation in July and August this year meant the area of the Amazon destroyed in the first eight months of 2019 increased to 6,404.8 km2, an area 92 per cent larger than that recorded between January and August last year (3,336.7 km2).
The INPE compiled the information using satellite images, although the agency warned that it should not be considered as the government’s official data on deforestation.
The revelation comes at a time when Brazil is being criticised by environmentalists and politicians around the world for the sharp increase in forest fires in the Amazon seen this year.
Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has championed anti-environmentalist policies such as decreasing surveillance in the region and allowing mining activities within indigenous reservations, among others.
According to the opposition, loggers and farmers have also intensified their destructive activities in the Amazonian region under the protection of the Bolsonaro administration.
Bolsonaro has downplayed the data released by the INPE, whose former director he fired in July, while demanding changes in the methods used for measuring deforestation and accusing the agency’s officials of being beholden to environmentalist groups.
The far-right leader has also blamed the international controversy over the forest fires on a campaign by foreign countries seeking to dismiss Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon and trying to steal its wealth of natural resources.