Fires in Brazil's Amazon jump 20% in June

High above Brazil's Amazon rainforest -- patches of scorched earth are bringing attention to an alarming problem: raging forest fires, which rose 20% last month -- and are putting the lives of dozens of tribes indigenous to the region at serious risk.

The fires, which are set to clear land after trees have been cut down, have environmentalists like Romulo Batista worried about the dangers of increasing deforestation.

"From January to May this year, we had more than 650 thousand hectares with a deforestation alert, according to the National Institute for Space Research. That is 78% higher than last year.''

The indigenous tribes of the Amazon now face the twin threat of an environmental and public health crisis.

Health experts fear the smoke which often blankets the forest during the dry season and causes respiratory problems could cause further complications for patients with COVID-19.

The disease has battered indigenous communities living in the region, tribes which have no immunity to external diseases, and live a communal lifestyle that rules out social distancing.

Carlos Soza Junior of the non-profit Imazon explains.

''The clearing of land already represents a serious health problem. If we have land clearing and COVID-19 together, this could bring catastrophic consequences for the residents of the region.''

Environmentalists largely blame the increasing destruction of the rainforest on the policies of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro deployed the Brazilian armed forces to protect the Amazon in May--but deforestation is still on the rise.

He has called for more farming and mining in protected areas of the Amazon, while defending the country for still preserving the majority of the rainforest.

The Amazon Environmental Research Institute predicts that at the current pace of deforestation, some 9,000 square kilometers of the Amazon will be cut down by the end of this month.