Dr. Andrés Víctor Salazar Monasterios

In Bolivia, we have been terribly affected by "forest fires", according to the latest official data from the Authority of Social Control and Inspection of Forests and Land (ABT), until November 13, 2023 a total of 3,518,708 hectares of land were devastated by fire, but especially by environmental mismanagement in our country. It is necessary to distinguish these events in two, the forest fires themselves, in which there is no human intervention and the chaqueo, which is a controversial technique in which fire is used to clear and prepare the land for planting, with a very high risk of losing control of it.

Now then, it is necessary to understand the environmental impact that wildfires represent in climate change. A study by Inside Climate News showed in a 2018 article that "...wildfires account for 5 to 10 percent of annual global CO2 emissions each year," comparing the global production of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (32 billion tons of CO2), regardless of its source, with the production of wildfires in 2018 (8 billion tons of CO2), reaching the compelling conclusion that wildfires involved almost 25% of the total CO2 in that year.

With the data previously exposed, it is of vital importance that the governments of the world, especially the Bolivian Government, consider whether they are allocating sufficient resources to fight forest fires through better prevention methods or more means of extinction, especially if we take into account the high climate impact that this implies and if the resources, not only economic, but also regulatory are adequate for the preservation of the environment, considering the seriousness of this problem. It is also necessary to understand that, although forest fires are part of the history of planet Earth, the higher temperatures caused by the greenhouse effect cause fires to be larger and longer lasting, evidencing a synergic and complex interrelationship between the two problems.

Now, it is necessary to highlight the provisions of several environmental articles of the Political Constitution of the State, for example, it is determined in its ninth Article as a function of the state"The conservation of the environment, for the well-being of present and future generations."This is also enshrined as a right for all in Article 33, which states: "People have the right to a healthy, protected and balanced environment."In this regard, Article 347 establishes that:The State and society shall promote the mitigation of harmful effects on the environment.” y establece “"Those who carry out activities with an impact on the environment shall, at all stages of production, avoid, minimize, mitigate, remedy, repair and compensate the damages caused to the environment and people's health, and shall establish the necessary safety measures to neutralize the possible effects of environmental liabilities."including, in clear contraindication to clearing permits, Article 381 provides as follows"Native species of animal and plant origin are natural patrimony. The State shall establish the necessary measures for their conservation, use and development."And, in perfect complementation, Article 387 also provides as follows:"The State shall guarantee the conservation of natural forests in forestry vocation areas, their sustainable use, the conservation and recovery of flora, fauna and degraded areas."The regulations, which read very environmentalist, but are not applied.

Now, taking into account the provisions of the current Constitution, in contrast to the same, the regulations in force, which evidently contradict the aforementioned Constitution, will be shown below:

Decreto Supremo 24453, de 21 de diciembre de 1996 – Reglamento General de la Ley ForestalArt. 43. “Establece un sistema de multas progresivas y acumulativas” efímeras considerando el impacto ambiental que generan, según la gravedad de la contravención
Decreto Supremo 26075 de 16 de febrero de 2001Art. 5 “el desmonte en tierras privadas sujeto a la aprobación del plan de ordenamiento predial”
Ley 337, de 11 de enero de 2013 – régimen excepcional para el tratamiento de predios con desmontes“incentivar en predios que hubieren sido objeto de desmontes sin autorización, la producción de alimentos para garantizar el derecho fundamental a la soberanía y la seguridad alimentaria y la restitución de áreas de bosques afectadas”
Ley 741, de 29 de septiembre de 2015Autorización de desmonte de hasta 20 hectáreas “en pequeñas propiedades, propiedades comunitarias o colectivas en proceso de saneamiento o tituladas, y asentamientos humanos legalmente establecidos con resolución de autorización para el desarrollo de actividades agrícolas y pecuarias”.
Ley 1171, de 25 de abril de 2019 – Ley de uso y manejo racional de quemaLa primera disposición adicional establece un período de “regularización en el pago de deudas por sanciones administrativas por quemas sin autorización existentes a la fecha”. Otorgando exenciones en el pago de multas por quemas sin autorización.
(Fuente: Elaboración propia)

It can be seen that, the previously mentioned regulations, evidently unconstitutional, directly or indirectly, promote clearings and controlled burnings and, at the same time, facilitate this action through exemptions or ephemeral fines per hectare burned, as can be seen in Law 1171, in clear contradiction with the provisions of our Magna Carta. All these laws, if indeed tend to economic development, were not made on the basis of environmental sustainability, denoting a clearly unsustainable agricultural and social trend.

However, from another point of view, it is clear and evident that forest fires diminish air quality and damage the health of people and ecosystems, to the detriment of the established rights to health and to live well. Given the constant interaction between pollution and climate change, the long-term consequences will be significant. Air quality and climate are evidently interconnected, i.e., the worse the air quality, the higher the temperatures caused by the greenhouse effect, which dries out plants, increasing the risk of larger and longer lasting fires, generating a vicious circle, as is happening right now in Bolivia, where the effects of fires are already evident in the cities.

It is of vital importance the planning and prevention to face a problem in an efficient way, even more so when dealing with something as sensitive and important as the environment, constituting of vital importance the prohibition of clearings and controlled burnings and not a simple suspension as it was the administrative resolution ABT N° 177/2023, of July 24, 2023 issued by the Authority of Fiscalization and Social Control of Forests and Land (ABT), and consequently the abrogation of that regulation that goes against what is stipulated by the Constitution in environmental issues. That is why our planet requires concrete actions from those in power and concrete laws from our legislators for environmental protection and modifications to the current regulations, so that, from all spheres of action of society and the State, policies, benefits and obligations of a climatic and environmental nature can be introduced and not simply wait for a rain to solve our problems.