Indigenous tribes fight for their native lands in the Brazilian Amazon. (Photo: Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters)
For almost three decades, indigenous populations, human rights organizations, and environmentalists have ardently opposed plans to build the colossal Belo Monte Dam in the Amazon rain forest.
This past week, they lost the fight.
Brazil’s environmental agency, Ibama, approved the construction of the world’s third largest dam in the heart of the Amazon rain forest, reports Reuters.
Opponents point out that the dam will flood a significant part of the Amazon’s Xingu River basin. This drastic ecological devastation will push tens of thousands of indigenous people from their native lands.
The dam, which is expected to start producing electricity in 2015, will be capable of generating 11,200 megawatts of electricity. The New York Times reports that former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva made this project a priority within his administration. His successor, President Dilma Rousseff, pushed it to its conclusion. Both argue that the dam is critical to Brazil’s growing energy needs.
The North Energy consortium, which holds the license for the dam, has pledged $1.9 billion for “social-environmental measures” to help people affected by the dam’s construction and to offset environmental effects, according to the New York Times. The Brazilian government has stated that it will contribute $314 million.
Certain things, however, money can’t buy.
The New York Times reports that the $17 billion dam would divert 62 miles of the Xingu River in Pará State. According to leading environmental groups, it will flood more than 120,000 acres of rain forest and settlements, consequently displacing 20,000 to 40,000 people and releasing large quantities of methane.
Celebrities such as Sting and Hollywood director James Cameron have raised their voices in opposition to the dam. According to Amazon Watch, James Cameron compared the conflict to a “real life” version of his film Avatar. He produced a short video entitled Message From Pandora criticizing the plan. Watch it here:
Atossa Soltani, executive director of Amazon Watch, sums it all up in a few words: “This is a tragic day for the Amazon.”