Brazilian Environmental Agency gave final approval on Wednesday for the creation of a large hydroelectric dam on the Amazon River. Opponents said they would not give up the fight against the Belo Monte dam, which they said would flood a large part of the Xingu River basin, affecting local fishing and forcing tens of thousands of indigenous people from their native lands.


By
Published: June 1, 2011

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil’s environmental agency gave final approval on Wednesday for a giant hydroelectric power plant in the Amazon rain forest that has been at the center of a protracted battle between the government and environmentalists over the fate of indigenous people.

After three decades of planning, the environmental agency, Ibama, granted a license to the North Energy consortium for the dam, which will be the world’s third largest, capable of producing 11,200 megawatts of electricity.

Opponents said they would not give up the fight against the Belo Monte dam, which they said would flood a large part of the Xingu River basin, affecting local fishing and forcing tens of thousands of indigenous people from their native lands.

“We will not cede an inch,” said Antônia Melo, the coordinator of Xingu Vivo Para Sempre, a group based in Altamira, a city that will be partly flooded. “Our indignation and our strength to fight only increases with every mistake and every lie of this government.”

Belo Monte became a priority for the previous government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who contended that the plant was critical to Brazil’s future energy needs. His successor, President Dilma Rousseff, has remained committed to the project.

The license was granted by the environmental agency after “robust technical analysis,” the government said in a news release. The North Energy consortium will pay $1.9 billion for “social-environmental measures,” to help people affected by the dam’s construction and to offset environmental effects, an agency spokeswoman said. The government itself has committed $314 million, she said.

Conservationists have become increasingly critical of Brazil’s efforts to protect the Amazon rain forest. Brazil’s deforestation numbers increased sharply over the past nine months, and the lower house of Congress last week approved a revision of the Forest Code that would open up protected areas to deforestation while granting amnesty to agribusiness developers for previous forest-clearing. The Senate has yet to vote on the measure.

“The government has an important choice — to go back to a future of wasteful publicly funded mega-projects and frontier chaos, or ahead, to the future of a sustainable and equitable green economy leader, with rule of law, good governance and a secure natural and investment environment,” said Stephan Schwartzman of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The $17 billion dam, which is expected to start producing electricity in 2015, would divert the Xingu River along a 62-mile stretch in Pará State. Environmental groups say it will flood more than 120,000 acres of rain forest and settlements, displacing 20,000 to 40,000 people and releasing large quantities of methane. The Ibama spokeswoman put the number of displaced people at 20,000 but insisted that no indigenous people would be removed from their lands.

“This is a tragic day for the Amazon,” said Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch. “Despite all the promises the dam builders are making around mitigation and compensation, this dam is going to spell disaster for the local people.”

Myrna Domit contributed reporting.

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Controversial Belo Monte Dam Approved for Amazon

February 9, 2010
Rio Times

By Mira Olson, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – The IBAMA (Brazilian Environmental Agency) issued a provisional license on February 1st to move forward with plans to build the controversial Belo Monte mega-dam in the Xingú river, a tributary of the Amazon in the state of Pará.

The Tucuirui dam on the Amazon has had a significant environmental impact on the surrounding area, photo courtesy of skyscraper city Yahoo/ Creative Commons License.The Tucuirui dam on the Amazon has had a significant environmental impact on the surrounding area, photo courtesy of skyscraper city/Yahoo Creative Commons License.

The Belo Monte dam is expected to start production in 2015. It will be the second largest hydroelectric dam in Brazil and the third largest in the world in terms of generating capacity, producing up to 11,000KW of electricity and providing electricity for 23 million homes. Dam proponents argue that Belo Monte is necessary, as hydroelectric production is Brazil’s best solution for the current energy crisis.

The government’s rubber-stamp caused international uproar among indigenous and environmental activists who argue that the dam will have severe socio-environmental consequences.

The dam will create 500 square kilometers of flooding in agricultural land and forests, affecting the 24 indigenous tribes that inhabit the region. This will have a direct impact on the Paquiçamba reserve of the Juruna indigenous people, and in total an estimated 12,000 people will be forced to relocate and farmlands and fish stocks will be greatly reduced.

Environmental activists are concerned that Belo Monte will have similar socio-environmental repercussions to those of past projects. Amazon Watch reports that the Tucurui dam, built by the Brazilian electric company Eletronorte in the Eighties, displaced 40,000 people, pushing them even deeper into poverty. Additionally, the submerged rotting vegetation from the dam accounts for one-sixth of Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Indigenous groups participating in a debate about the consequences of the Belo Monte dam, photo by Wilson Dias/Agência Brasil.Indigenous groups participating in a debate about the consequences of the Belo Monte dam, photo by Wilson Dias/Agência Brasil.

Opponents also argue that the dam will be highly inefficient. During the driest three to five months of the year it will produce almost no electricity. In order to guarantee year-round flow of water into the Belo Monte turbines, the government has plans for at least four more dams upstream. These dams will flood the Kayapó reserves and will affect the Araweté, Assuriní and Arara peoples. One of the proposed dams, the Altamira, will flood over 6,000 square kilometers of forests.

Marcello Furtado, executive director for Greenpeace in Brazil, said in a statement that the energy produced by Belo Monte will be consumed 5,000 kilometers away, meaning that there will be energy wasted in transmission.

The license issued last week, which approves the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project, is the first of three environmental licenses required to build the dam. It imposes forty conditions to mitigate the socio-environmental impact of the project, which will cost roughly US$800 million to implement. Whichever construction consortium wins the project auction, scheduled for March 30th, will be obliged to meet these conditions.

Environmental Minister, Carlos Minc, and Ibama president, Roberto Messias Franco, during a meeting about the provisional license for the Belo Monte dam, photo by Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil. Environmental Minister, Carlos Minc, and IBAMA president, Roberto Messias Franco, during a meeting about the provisional license for the Belo Monte dam, photo by Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil.

Carlos Minc, the Brazilian Environmental Minister announced in a statement that the conditions imposed for the project prove that Belo Monte “is the most socio-environmentally advanced dam in the history of Brazil.” Critics point out that the forty conditions necessary for the assessment to be approved indicate that Belo Monte is actually one of Brazil’s most detrimental projects to the environment.

Plans for the dam have been stalled since the mid-Nineties because of the high levels of national and international opposition. Multiple sources suggest that the dam is now being pushed through as political leverage to ensure a Worker’s Party (PT) victory in the presidential elections in October of this year.

 

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