NASA Images Show Africa Has Five Times More Wildfires Burning Than The Amazon—Here's Why They're Different

There are now approximately five times as many wildfires burning in Africa than in the Amazon, according to images captured by NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) technology last week.
The affected countries include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Cameroon and Angola in the heart of Central Africa. The individual blazes are confined primarily to the Savanna, drawing concern because of their close proximity to forests in the Congo Basin, an area made especially vulnerable by deforestation caused by industrial activity in the region.

The Savanna wildfires pose a threat to the world's second-largest tropical forest, which spans 500 million acres and provides a home to more than 2,000 species of animals and roughly 10,000 species of plants. The MODIS images documented more than 6,902 fires in Angola and 3,395 fires in the DRC, while picking up on just over 2,000 in Brazil.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted about the devastation in the Savanna during the G7 summit, prompting many on social media to ask why the African wildfires are not getting the same amount of attention as those in the Amazon. This came after Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro rejected $22 million in proposed funding on Monday to help put out the blazes in Amazon, saying the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Amazon rainforest fires
In this aerial image, smoke covers a section of the Amazon rain forest affected by wildfires on August 25, 2019 in the Candeias do Jamari region near Porto Velho, Brazil. Victor Moriyama/Getty Images

However, as both government leaders and environmental advocates point out, there are no clear comparisons to be made between the two regions.

The longstanding practice of slash-and-burn agriculture, as well as a seasonal rise in temperature across the area, are primarily to blame for the flames in Central Africa—while the Amazon has been experiencing periods of drought that are uncharacteristic of the region, DRC Ambassador Tosi Mpanu Mpanu told the AFP on Monday.

While the Amazon rainforest has often been referred to as the Earth's "lungs," the areas of undergrowth in the Congo Basin has shared similar status for trailing marginally behind it as the world's second-largest tropical forest. It spans 500 million acres and provides a home to more than 2,000 species of animals and roughly 10,000 species of plants—30 percent of which grow only in that region, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Organizations like Greenpeace Africa, which focuses primarily on calling attention to issues of deforestation, are monitoring the situation while acknowledging that as of right now, the fires are relatively "small-scale" compared to the flames the in the Amazon or even previous African wildfires.

But that doesn't mean the flames are under control. "This is something we could experience again tomorrow if preventative measures are not taken today," Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Greenpeace Africa Senior Forest Campaign Manager, told Newsweek on Tuesday.

She recalled the 2016 wildfires that ripped through the Congo capital of Brazzaville. "We must learn from the ongoing fire crisis in the Amazon and take the necessary steps to ensure the flames are controlled and do not spread further in the Congo Basin forest," she said.

If the fires got out of control, the surrounding governments in Africa "are not prepared financially—and also technically—to stop the fire," Betoko noted.

The organization continues to stand against both the industrial activities of major corporations as well as slash-and-burn methods in favor of a more "sustainable form of agriculture."