April 11, 2018

NICARAGUA: Government Needs International Help To Battle Fires Which Broke Out On A Biological Reserve Last Week And Has Burned 12,400 Acres. Started By Illegal Homesteaders, Illegal Loggers.

Guardian, UK
written by David Agren
Wednesday April 11, 2018

Fires have raged in one of Nicaragua’s most important protected areas of tropical forest for more than a week, but the government has rejected an offer of assistance from neighbouring Costa Rica.

Environmentalists in the Central American country have called on the government to appeal for international help to battle the blaze, which broke out in the Indio Maíz biological reserve on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast on 3 April and is estimated to have consumed more than 5,000 hectares (12,400 acres) of tropical rainforest.

“This is possibly the most dramatic ecological disaster ever experienced by Nicaragua, because it’s affecting a tropical rainforest – a very delicate and valuable ecosystem,” the prominent environmentalist Jaime Incer Barquero told the newspaper La Prensa.

Earlier this week, Costa Rica dispatched a team of firefighters – equipped with trucks, pumps and drones – to its northern border with Nicaragua, but they were turned away, the Costa Rica government said in a statement.

The statement added that Nicaraguan officials said they would use the country’s own resources to fight the fires and Costa Rican assistance was unnecessary. But the environmentalist Gabriel Jaime, a member of the Nicaraguan environmental NGO Fundación del Río, noted that “relations between the countries have not been the best” due to a long-running border dispute.

A Mexican air force helicopter equipped for fighting fires has been allowed to operate in the affected area, and Nicaraguan officials say at least 800 soldiers have been dispatched. The Nicaraguan government says fires have charred 3,585 hectares in the reserve, but environmentalists warned the figure was likely to be much higher.

The official response to the fires has drawn criticism, however, as Nicaragua lacks the expertise and specialised equipment to extinguish the fires in the reserve.

Incer Barquero said his country should appeal for help from neighbouring countries with firefighting helicopters.

“The Nicaraguan government would only have to ask, and I’m sure they would help … Otherwise I don’t see how we can fight this fire, which is spreading to the heart of Indio Maíz – where it is really hard to reach. We can’t put the fire out with the artisanal methods,” he told La Prensa.

On Tuesday, a group of journalists and environmentalists trying to enter the reserve to monitor the blaze were stopped by the national police and had their identifications confiscated, according to the journalist Cinthya Torres of La Prensa.

The fires are believed to have been started by illegal homesteaders, who were attempting to clear land for planting crops.

The reserve has traditionally been home to indigenous Rama people, but in recent years non-indigenous homesteaders, ranchers and illegal loggers have moved to the region, lured by the promise of cheap land and timber.

The new settlers have been encouraged by schools and health clinics built by the government, Jaime said.

“Instead of removing people and telling them ‘you can’t live in a protected area’, the government in one way or another is supporting these people’s settlements,” he said.

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