2021 Photo Contest, Environment, Stories, 1st Prize

Pantanal Ablaze

Photographer

Lalo de Almeida

Panos Pictures, for Folha de São Paulo

05 September, 2020

Burnt landscape lines the Transpantaneira, a road crossing the Pantanal, near Porto Jofre. The road is known for its wildlife-watching opportunities.

Nearly a third of Brazil’s Pantanal region—the world’s largest tropical wetland and flooded grasslands, sprawling across some 140,000 to 160,000 square kilometers—was consumed by fires over the course of 2020. According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research, there were triple the number of fires in 2020 compared to 2019. Fires in the Pantanal tend to burn just below the surface, fueled by highly combustible peat, which means they burn for longer and are harder to extinguish. The Pantanal, which is recognized by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve and is one of Brazil’s most important biomes, is suffering its worst drought in nearly 50 years, causing fires to spread out of control. Many of the fires started from slash-and-burn farming, which has become more prevalent due to the weakening of conservation regulation and enforcement under President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration. The Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) has seen its funding reduced by around 30 percent. Bolsonaro has frequently spoken out against environmental protection measures, and has made repeated comments undermining Brazilian courts’ attempts to punish offenders. Environmentalists say that this is encouraging agricultural burning and creating a climate of impunity. Luciana Leite, who studies humanity’s relationship with nature at the Federal University of Bahia, predicts the total collapse of the Pantanal, if current climate trends and anti-environmental policies persist.

About the photographer

Lalo de Almeida

Lalo de Almeida (1970) studied photography at the Instituto Europeo di Design in Milan, Italy where he began working as a photojournalist for small agencies covering daily news.&...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
1/30
ISO
100

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