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UN chief calls for protection of Amazon rainforest; says can't afford more damage to source of oxygen

A tract of Amazon jungle burns as it is being cleared by loggers and farmers in Novo Airao, Amazonas state, Brazil. Photograph:( Reuters )

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Aug 23, 2019, 04.25 PM (IST)

The United Nations on Thursday called for the protection of the fire-ravaged Amazon rainforest and said he was "deeply concerned" by the fires. 

"In the midst of the global climate crisis, we cannot afford more damage to a major source of oxygen and biodiversity," UN chief Antonio Guterres said on Twitter.

"The Amazon must be protected."

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Official figures show nearly 73,000 forest fires were recorded in Brazil in the first eight months of the year -- the highest number for any year since 2013. Most were in the Amazon.

The extent of the area damaged by fires has yet to be determined, but smoke has choked Sao Paulo and several other Brazilian cities in the past week.

Meanwhile, France's President Emmanuel Macron said the wildfires were "an international crisis" and called on the globe's most industrialised nations to address it at the G7 this weekend.

"Our house is on fire. Literally. The Amazon, the lung of our planet which produces 20 per cent of our oxygen is burning," Macron said on Twitter. 

"It is an international crisis. Members of the G7, let's talk in two days about this emergency."

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That did not sit well with Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro.

"The French president's suggestion that Amazon issues be discussed at the G-7 without participation by the countries in the region evokes a colonialist mentality that is out of place in the 21st century," Bolsonaro wrote on Twitter.

Neighboring Peru, which contains much of the Amazon basin, announced it was "on alert" for wildfires spreading from the rainforest in Brazil and Bolivia.

Paraguay and Bolivia are battling separate wildfires that have devastated large areas of their rainforests.

(With inputs from agencies)