African forest fires in spotlight after Amazon outcry
Kinshasa: In NASA satellite images, forest fires in central Africa appear to burn alarmingly like a red chain from Gabon to Angola similar to the blazes in Brazil's Amazon that sparked global outcry.
At the G7 summit this week, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted about the central Africa fires and said nations were examining a similar initiative to the one proposed to combat Brazil's blazes.
G7 nations have pledged USD 20 million on the Amazon, mainly on fire-fighting aircraft.
Macron's concern may be legitimate, but experts say central Africa's rainforest fires are often more seasonal and linked to traditional seasonal farming methods.
No doubt the region is key for the climate: The Congo Basin forest is commonly referred to as the "second green lung" of the planet after the Amazon.
The forests cover an area of 3.3 million square kilometres in several countries, including about a third in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the rest in Gabon, Congo, Cameroon and Central Africa.
Just like the Amazon, the forests of the Congo Basin absorb tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in trees and peat marshes — seen by experts as a key way to combat climate change. They are also sanctuaries for endangered species.
But most of the fires shown on the NASA maps of Africa are outside sensitive rainforest areas, analysts say, and drawing comparisons to the Amazon is also complex.
"The question now is to what extent we can compare," said Philippe Verbelen, a Greenpeace forest campaigner working on the Congo Basin.
"Fire is quite a regular thing in Africa. It's part of a cycle, people in the dry season set fire to bush rather than to dense, moist rainforest."
Guillaume Lescuyer, a central African expert at the French agricultural research and development centre CIRAD, also said the fires seen in NASA images were mostly burning outside the rain forest.
Angola's government also urged caution, saying swift comparisons to the Amazon may lead to "misinformation of more reckless minds".
The fires were usual at the end of the dry season, the Angolan ministry of environment said.
"It happens at this time of the year, in many parts of our country, and fires are caused by farmers with the land in its preparation phase, because of the proximity of the rainy season," it said.
Though less publicised than the Amazon, the Congo Basin forests still face dangers.