View of smoke caused by forest fires in La Paz (Bolivia) October 25, 2023. EFE/Luis Gandarillas. EFE/Luis Gandarillas

Bolivian lawmakers and environmentalists demand “state of disaster” due to fires

La Paz, Oct 25 (EFE). – Several legislators and environmental activists demanded Wednesday that the Bolivian government declare a “national disaster” in light of the forest fires that have increased air pollution levels in the country’s main cities.

On Wednesday, the cities of Santa Cruz and La Paz registered levels of 283 and 194, respectively, on the Air Quality Index (AQI) scale, classified as very harmful and harmful to health.

Both cities awoke with a gray cloud as a result of the burning and fires that have been occurring in nearby areas for several weeks.

Senator Centa Rek, of the opposition Creo party, regretted that President Luis Arce’s executive has not declared a national emergency because of “economic and political calculations” and that the situation “is no longer an emergency” but a “disaster”.

“The country is burning and the government has lost control,” Senator Leonardo Loza of the ruling Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), close to the sector of former President Evo Morales and critical of Arce, told the media.

View of smoke caused by forest fires in La Paz (Bolivia) October 25, 2023. EFE/Luis Gandarillas

At noon Wednesday, dozens of environmental activists stood in front of the Ministry of Defense in La Paz, one of the entities fighting the emergency, to demand “effective” action against the fires that threaten biodiversity and water reserves.

The government “must repeal the entire arson package, the supreme decrees that allow the expansion of the agricultural frontier (…) and declare a national disaster,” Vladimir Muñoz, a member of the Coordinator for the Defense of Mother Earth, told EFE.

The demonstrators shouted slogans such as “No soy and no coca, the forest must not be touched,” two crops that are particularly linked to deforestation in South America.

They also chanted “Incompetent government, ecocidal government” and carried banners with messages such as “No more fires in Bolivia” or “National disaster, environmental emergency”.

Marisol Portugal of the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (Senamhi) told EFE that “3,847 heat sources were recorded on Wednesday,” mainly in five of the country’s nine departments: Beni (2,815), Santa Cruz (653), La Paz (310), Cochabamba (44) and Pando (25).

According to Creo deputy Edwin Bazán, “85% of the fires occur in areas where there are illegal human settlements” tolerated by the government.

For her part, the Minister of Health, María Reneé Castro, recommended that the population avoid “any type of outdoor activity” and use a mask, among other precautions.

Likewise, the Minister of Education, Édgar Pary, ordered the extension of the suspension of classes in the affected areas until Friday.

The government is implementing some plans to contain the fires, such as the deployment of 3,562 police officers and members of the armed forces in the east of the country and the use of helicopters loaded with water.

In addition to the fires, Bolivia has been facing an intense drought for several months that has affected a large part of its territory, threatening Andean glaciers and water supplies in some cities, while in the countryside the liquid is scarce for livestock and food production. EFE grb/mcd (Photo) (Video)