Thu, 22 Oct 2020

The Brazilian prisoners battling wetland fires

25 Sep 2020, 04:08 GMT+10

Prison inmates are joining the effort to quell raging wildfires in Brazil's Pantanal wetlands, part of a reintegration scheme to help them adapt to life on the outside.

For months, out of control fires have been devastating the Pantanal, destroying vast swathes of what is the world's largest tropical wetland, famed for its abundance of wildlife.

"We've come to help out anywhere we can. We took a course in the fire service so that we could join them to fight fires together, rescue animals, and bring them food and water," volunteer inmate Eliseu dos Santos, who has spent the past 10 years behind bars, told AFP.

Around a dozen inmates, all wearing electronic ankle bracelets, make up the volunteer brigade. All are in the final stages of their sentences and have a record of good behaviour during their incarceration.

Along with pumping water and dousing the flames, they carry out other essential tasks such as leaving food and water for animals threatened with hunger and dehydration.

"When we got here, we saw that things are very bad, because there is a lack of water and food, and many animals are dying," said dos Santos. "So, what we saw has brought us great sadness. We were not aware of what was happening. I am happy to be here today to help and I am saddened at the same time to be aware of everything that is happening because today I am seeing it with my own eyes."

The record wildfires have destroyed some 18,646 km2 of the Pantanal as of September, according to official figures, equivalent to more than 12 percent of the total area of the wetlands.

They have been blamed on the worst drought in the region in half a century and fires lit by farmers to clear land that has burned out of control.

Orginally published on France24

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