Brazil Approves Enormous Hydroelectric Dam in Heart of Amazon

Brazil has approved an environmental license for the construction of a huge hydroelectric dam in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, bringing criticism from environmentalists for potential damage to the river basin and displacing indigenous peoples, even though the project is touted as a carbon neutral way to meet the region’s power needs.

Image: bensutherlandRainforest Canopy
Rainforest Canopy

According to Brazil’s Environment Minister, Carlos Minc, less than 100 square miles will be flooded for the dam, as opposed to the initial plan, which called for four dams, which would have flooded 1,900 square miles. The dam is named Belo Monte, and is part of the country’s federal infrastructure program, or Accelerated Growth Program.

Environmentalists and indigenous leaders are opposing the project, claiming that the loss of habitat and potentially displaced native peoples in the area are not being considered. They also say that the dam will create a waterway to transport agricultural commodities grown in the Amazon, further damaging the sensitive ecosystem and threatening fish species.

“We want to make sure that Belo Monte does not destroy the ecosystems and the biodiversity that we have taken care of for millennia. We are opposed to dams on the Xingu and will fight to protect our river.” – Megaron Tuxucumarrae, Kayapo Indian

According to Survival International:

“The livelihoods of thousands of tribal people who depend on the forest and river for food and water will be destroyed. Some face removal from their ancestral land.”

Proponents of the dam say that half of the proposed flooded area is already naturally flooded during the rainy season, so the environmental impact is less than what is stated in the proposal, and has been considered. Environmental Minister Minc states: “Not one Indian on indigenous land will be displaced.”, although he admits that some Indians living in one town outside protected lands would be resettled and compensated, and 12,000 people are going to be relocated because of the dam.

The fast-growing country has an ever increasing demand for electricity, and the new project will be the world’s third largest hydroelectric plant, with an 11,000MW capacity. The Belo Monte will rank right behind the Three Gorges Dam in China, with 20,000MW capacity, and Itaipu Dam, in Brazil, with 14,000MW capacity.

Written by Derek Markham

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  1. The World Bank estimates that forcible โ€œdevelopment-induced displacement and resettlementโ€ now affects 10 million people per year. According to the World Bank an estimated 33 million people have been displaced by development projects such as dams, urban development and irrigation canals in India alone.

    India is well ahead in this respect. A country with as many as over 3600 large dams within its belt can never be the exceptional case regarding displacement. The number of development induced displacement is higher than the conflict induced displacement in India. According to Bogumil Terminski an estimated more than 10 million people have been displaced by development each year.

    Athough the exact number of development-induced displaced people (DIDPs) is difficult to know, estimates are that in the last decade 90โ€“100 million people have been displaced by urban, irrigation and power projects alone, with the number of people displaced by urban development becoming greater than those displaced by large infrastructure projects (such as dams). DIDPs outnumber refugees, with the added problem that their plight is often more concealed.

    This is what experts have termed โ€œdevelopment-induced displacement.โ€ According to Michael Cernea, a World Bank analyst, the causes of development-induced displacement include water supply (dams, reservoirs, irrigation); urban infrastructure; transportation (roads, highways, canals); energy (mining, power plants, oil exploration and extraction, pipelines); agricultural expansion; parks and forest reserves; and population redistribution schemes.

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