Off the Farm

As farmers flee to cities, the frequency of fires in the Peruvian Amazon is rising, scientists report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Amazon fires can pollute the air, increase carbon emissions, and damage forests. Many factors contribute to fires, including droughts and increased road access. But the effect of another recent trend — people migrating from the countryside to urban areas — is unclear. Fires related to farming might drop, but fewer people would also be around to help quench fires.

The study authors drew on climate, geographical, census, and survey data to explore this question. From 2000 to 2010, the frequency of fires in the Peruvian Amazon was linked to droughts and road access. As the number of people in rural areas shrank, fires occurred more often. Fire risk was also higher in areas with more fallow land, the team found.

People often use fires to clear their land, but “the capacity of households to control the fires they or their neighbors ignite may be declining,” the authors write. Towns could reduce fire risk by setting up warning systems or offering rural residents better education options and health care. Roberta Kwok | 11 December 2012

Source: Uriarte, M. et al. 2012. Depopulation of rural landscapes exacerbates fire activity in the western Amazon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences doi: 10.1073/pnas.1215567110.

Image © nikkytok |