- BRASILIA (www.nando.net) - Two shamans were summoned on Sunday to help
fight the fires that have raged through the Amazon rainforest for two months
and highlighted Brazil's lack of readiness to combat such disasters by
- "They are going to hold a ceremony
inside the Yanomami reservation," said Marcos Ferreira, an official
at the government's Indian Foundation (Funai).
- "It is a ritual to repel the smoke
and if possible, bring on rain."
- Firefighters say only heavy rains can
douse the fires, set by poor subsistence farmers, which have burned out
of control in northern Roraima state and destroyed an area of highland
savannah and virgin rainforest potentially as large as Lebanon.
- The state government declared a state
of calamity in January but its appeals for help from the federal government
went largely ignored until the press and environmental pressure groups
drew attention to the scope of the disaster in March.
- Wherever reporters went, they found large
swathes of savannah reduced to a blackened wasteland, pristine rainforest
covered in a thick blanket of smoke and skeletal cattle huddling around
depleted water holes.
- Two weeks ago, 40 firemen were fighting
the flames in a territory the size of Britain. By Sunday, that figure had
swelled to 1,400, including volunteers from Argentina and Venezuela.
- Significantly, the Brazilian government
has now accepted help from the United Nations and the World Bank in a region
whose sovereignty military officials have traditionally jealously guarded.
- Officials from the U.N. Environment Program
(UNEP) first offered to send a team of experts to Brazil in November, saying
they could share experience gained in helping to fight forest fires in
Indonesia last year.
- Despite its huge forests, Brazil has
no aircraft equipped to carry water and has relied so far on four Argentine
helicopters equipped with monsoon buckets. The few Brazilian firemen trained
to combat forest fires had never set foot in the Amazon.
- The team of U.N. experts is due in Brasilia
on Sunday. A similar mission was heading back to Indonesia, where fires
were reported to be spreading again in East Kalimantan, on the Indonesian
side of Borneo island.
- Environmentalists said the Indonesia
blazes, which cast a thick pall of smoke over parts of Southeast Asia,
would have catastrophic consequences for the area's wildlife and could
have a negative impact on the climate.
- They now fear the same is true of the
Amazon, although nobody knows yet how widespread the ecological damage
- Respiratory illnesses have risen sharply
in the state capital Boa Vista, where residents have been breathing smog
for more than eight weeks, but no one has resorted to the surgical masks
used by Indonesians last year.
- Environmental experts say the large quantities
of carbon monoxide being released into the atmosphere could cause long-term
health problems and contribute to global warming.
- Amid fears that the fires could spread
to the southern Amazon when the dry season begins there in May, pressure
is building for Brazil to work on a long-term solution to the problem such
as an environmental protection team.
- Meanwhile, the two elderly mystics, known
as "xapuris," are expected to perform a rain ceremony similar
to a Yanomami ritual in which shamans enter a hallucinogenic trance by
snorting powdered bark of the Virola tree.
- The Yanomami Indians see the smoke of
the fires as a sign from spirits in the sky that epidemics are on the way.
- The Yanomami have in the past blamed
wild-cat gold diggers, known as "garimpeiros," for angering the
spirits by robbing the earth of its minerals. The garimpeiros brought malaria
into the reservation and polluted rivers with mercury used for mining.