Massive Hydroelectric Dam in the Amazon Will Go Ahead

By Andrew Moseman | February 2, 2010 1:57 pm

Xingu_RiverBrazil’s controversial plan to build the third-largest dam in the world right in Amazon rainforest got the go-ahead from the environmental ministry this week. The ministers approved the permits for the dam project, and now companies can begin to bid on the building rights. But whoever wins will have to pay out at least some money to protect the local environment.

The 11,000-megawatt Belo Monte dam is part of Brazil’s largest concerted development plan for the Amazon since the country’s military government cut highways through the rainforest to settle the vast region during its two-decade reign starting in 1964 [Reuters]. Nearly all huge dam projects raise environmental concerns because they flood vast areas and can change ecosystems so drastically. But the Belo Monte, to be built on the Xingu River, has the additional trouble of being in one of the most important habitats in world and near to populations of indigenous peoples. The Xingu is a tributary of the Amazon River.

In the announcement yesterday, environment minister Carlos Minc tried to reassure everyone that Belo Monte would not be an ecological disaster. “Not a single Indian [sic] will be displaced. They will be indirectly affected, but they will not have to leave indigenous lands,” he said [The Guardian]. But Brazilian officials say that about 12,000 people living in towns beyond the protected wild areas will be affected by the construction, and may have to be relocated. Whatever company wins the bid to build the dam will have to pay in excess of $800 million to protect the environment and offset damage caused by the dam, and to resettle the displaced.

But Minc’s assurances didn’t satisfy all the project’s critics, who say diverting the flow of the Xingu river will still lead to devastation in a large area of the rainforest and damage fish stocks [BBC News]. They also contend that his pledge not to displace native populations is untrue, because the dam could flood nearly 200 square miles and affect 40,000 people there.

When completed, the dam could power the homes of 23 million people, the BBC reports. And with Brazil’s population growing steadily, Belo Monte won’t be the last dam project in the Amazon: 70 more are in the planning stages.

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80beats: As Amazon Rainforest Destruction Continues, Brazil Pledges Drastic Action
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DISCOVER: Dams, From Hoover to Three Gorges to the Crumbling Ones

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Matanya

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Human Origins
  • Mike

    Hopefully, for the sake of the Amazon and all it’s creatures, they will encounter some blue people that will kick their asses. Seriously, very sad to read this as in 2 decades the amazon will be filled with people, cities, McDonalds, Wal-Marts, shopping, & all the litter that comes with.

  • Doug Watts

    The Amazon will be destroyed in 50 years.

    Yay !!!

    Progress !!!

  • Jeff

    Seriously, after watching Planet Earth and the episode of how powerful our usage of resources and space impacts the environment I am furious about this.

  • Juiceman

    Don’t worry, we’ll all forget about this in a few days and never give it a second thought.

  • dan42day

    The real problem at the root of everything from this to global warming is that there are simply too “dam” many people, with many more to come. This place could be a paradise with a population of around 1 billion.

    What this planet really needs is a pandemic virus that sterilizes 90% of all existing humans. Of course the effect would probably be reversible for reasonably wealthy people in the developed world, but then that’s not where the population is exploding.

  • Alex

    What pisses me off about this sort of stuff is that the brazilian environment protection agency (IBAMA) which is responsible for analizing the environmental impact studies and authorize (or not) the construction were about to give a NO GO for this dam, but there was a huge pressure from the government and it was authorized. We have elections here in the end of 2010, and our worldwidely beloved president Lula (that educated people in Brazil, including myself, think should be jailed due to the unexplained interest of public companies in hiring his son’s obscure marketing agency making him filthy rich, but that’s another story) pressed IBAMA to issue the authorization so he can use all the benefits of such a huge project (including some donations from prospect contractors) for the campaign of his puppet candidate, Ms. Dilma.

  • Dave

    dan42day you got the right idea. Now we just need to develope the virus and hope it doesn’t change into anything worse. Or provide free clippings!!! But too true, there’s too many of us….

  • G Hats

    You know, I’m torn with how I feel about this one. I obviously don’t want to see the Amazon get taken over by people and destroyed, but at the same time, I’m happy to hear that they are building a hydroelectric dam instead of some massive fossil fuel power plant! At least they are trying to harness energy that won’t contribute directly to greenhouse gases.

    although, in reality I feel the same as you guys, we have too many people and we need a really big disaster to come around and wipe out some people, or as you said, sterilize people!

    I’m scared to see where the world goes in the next 30 years…

  • terra incognita

    dan, dave, G Hats & like minded morons should practice what they preach & immediately stop reproducing neanderthals like themselves. i’m sure brazil’s food stamps & school lunch program are to blame (just riffing on the enlightened south carolina lieutenant governor). honestly, what do you guys do for fun when you’re not typing with your knuckles? ever actually get off the couch & away from your big screen tv & see the how the rest of (non western) world scrapes by a meager existence? often in large part thanks to the punitive policies of the IMF, World Bank, WTO? i’d prefer that they didn’t build the dam either, but we’re not providing cheap, environmentally friendly energy so they’ve got to do what they can to survive. gluttonous resource consumption by fat arrogant westerners is the biggest threat to this planet, go ask any peer respected political economist, but you probably don’t know where to find one and/or don’t even care.

  • nick

    So long, Amazon river. Ye were mighty but nothing to the likes of mankind.

  • Daniel J. Andrews

    dang…I’ve nothing left for the horses…terra used up all the straw.

  • Nelson Tembra

    Belo Monte is just one more sad brazilian example…

    A few days ago, the brazilian Press put out the news: “The Tucuruí Lock Nº2 has been taken by protesters. The “invaders” belong to various “social movements” and submit a heavy negotiation backlog alleging their seeking for environmental impacts solutions.

    It is reported that the Dam-Affected People Movement has adopted a new approach over the past two years by networking with other “social movements”, such as MST (Landless People Movement), FETRAF (Family-farming Workers Federation) and other ones by strengthening their common claims. The heavy claims-list bunches the various groups involved in the occupation together.

    Among the claims by the “Social Movements” acting in the area affected by the Tucuruí Lake, are listed the impacts caused by the logging activity, charcoal production and land exploitation, i.e., the secondary impacts caused by the spontaneous colonization process brought about by the Locks construction.

    The claiming leaders argue over the excessively slow-moving indemnification funds freeing in favor of the Locks construction affected families, as well as over the lack of a straight-forward and well-defined position by the Municipal Government regarding the land-area to be set aside for the building of 300 popular houses and an open-air fair around the area from which the Locks Lake is foreseen to emerge.

    This type of protest-action tends to stretch on and on, as well as to further stiffening, as long as the Government does not ensure the proper and efficient application of the rules for environmental licensing of such highly-impacting projects, particularly when social and economic aspects are to be taken into account.

    The Writer’s purpose is not to “warm over” this issue. The problem and its causes have indeed been recurring, have been taking place over and over, repeatedly, though in different situations, throughout the very history of Brazil and govern-rulings by various partisan colors, as time wears on, and always connected to the implementing of infra-structure mega-projects and those aimed at natural resources exploitation, no matter if renewable ones, or not.

    All actions and proper measures are required to be foreseen and plainly defined, in full harmony with prevailing Legislation, by means of the control instruments, or, environment-committed projects. They should not be limited to the compensation effect range, but, on the other hand, they should aim at mitigating the negative impacts, as well as enhancing the positive ones, highlighting those of social-economic and environmental value.

    In the State of Pará, what has regrettably taken place is the fact that, neither COEMA (the Environment State Council), which counts on a strong Civil Society representation, nor Citizens themselves, have taken advantage of such favoring Law provisions, throughout the public hearings which are held way-before the prospective studies are finished.

    In hindsight, no matter if whites or Indians, as soon as they reach out for compensations, what they end up being after, in fact, are non-existing rights, inasmuch as, outside the requirements and parameters that expressly ruled the Environmental Licensing obtained by a company, all and any action expected from such a company has to be rigorously considered as “voluntary” and/or “self-free/goodwill-initiative”. The State machine ends up powerless to legally charge supposed infringers, while even the renewal and releasing of further Licenses could as well be bound up to fair compensations fulfillments.

    Participatory democracy should ensure its own space as well as stimulate formal democracy to further broaden and strengthen civil society’s influence upon Government-made decisions. This sort of dynamics should help changing the very meaning of “governing”. A new perspective for decisions making would arise, leading non-governmental actors to share responsibilities with public sector managers, thus playing an effective role in the public scenario.

    Whoever labors on the painstaking drudgery of consolidating participatory democracy, finds himself faced with the challenge of reconciling the efficiency of the made decisions with democratic ethics. For such, one ought to count on rulers’ political goodwill in giving in and sharing some power, and, from those occupying these participation spaces, the ability to attain top-improvement would be expected. The challenge would be for both winning the real participation space, and for consolidating the patterns of participatory and sustainable co-management, every time such public places are taken over by a population stratum. The participatory democracy exercise requires, though, permanent collective efforts, by both society and government.

    Besides being quite more complex, the participation-based decision-makings do require much more hard-work in meetings, negotiations and processes organizing than those arisen from a centralized and non-participation model do. Therefore, it would be highly recommendable that participants’ neither time nor energies be wasted throughout these meetings.

    The problems emerge and can be depicted from each participating individual’s attitude along the Public Hearings. Barriers to the success of these meetings usually arise from the participants’ very own attitudes. Different viewpoints, interests and goals may come into shock and further harden the situation if the issues inherent to the process are not duly clarified and negotiated. Background differences, like previous training and experience, as well as the institutional role played by each participant, are enough to establish this unevenness. Participation quality and ethics are jeopardized by a centennial legacy of a clientele-dependent, ego-cultist and authoritarian political culture.

    The afore factors all contribute to nourishing certain “Power-Games”, which may have none, little or greater relevance in the decisions-making process. The problem becomes more serious when these “games” playing overmatch the goals, not only upon each meeting or Public Hearing, but throughout the whole participation process in general. As time wears on, the bona fide participant starts losing faith in the process and stepping out of it, frustrated by feeling exclusion and the perception of being inserted in something where the real purpose being fought over is nothing but only power-holding. The lack of ethics and true effectiveness leads the process to fading away both quantity and quality-wise.

    It is such an issue that requires unselfishness and personal efforts by one in order to act open in relation to others, as well as negotiation, tolerance, patience, briskness and discipline skills, among other requirements. What mostly endangers a participatory meeting are the authoritarian mechanisms, typical to an anti-democratic political culture, played, to a greater or lesser extent, by the participants, impelled either by habit or deliberate purpose. It is important to be able to identify such mechanisms and to prompt the actions that will lead the participants to understand them, so that the work-group can replace them by democratic alternatives, opposed to indifference, to the hidden scene play, to the empty rhetoric dispute, to the unfocussed acting, to the generalized speech, to the conspiracy theory or the persecution syndrome.

  • amylynn

    There are so many people/organizations/governments with their agendas working in the Amazon basin. Please visit

    You will learn about everyday indigenous life in the remote Peruvian Amazon and see amazing photos all taken by indigenous children.

    I believe one critical aspect is to educate the indigenous youth so that they can participate in making decisions and setting goals according to the wants and needs of themselves and their communities.

    You will have the opportunity to help educate an indigenous child if you so desire.

    After all, who will preserve their culture and develop their communities? They will.

    Thank you.

  • jairo

    O projeto de Belo Monte não pode existir.Os impactos sociais,ambientais e até econômicos são imensos.O projeto nunca esteve certo,escondem realidades e números. Belo Monte Não ! Belo Monte não ! Belo Monte não !

  • Winston Blomberg
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  • Bob

    ???What ze poops???

  • Bob

    wat r u talkin about

  • Mack Maurey

    Hey, Im having a problem looking at your website in my web browser. Could you book this kind of. My personal web browser will be Opera 7 by the way.

  • dddd

    Viruses to kill people over over-population is rubbish.

    it’s not the number of people, its the packaging, the over-use of meaningless electrical uses driving up demand for more destructive energy development projects, growing foods for other countries but not your own, not growing Hemp,

    animal agriculture and nobody composting bio mass scraps, misallocation of food and not growing food in city boundaries.

    Growing food not being everyone’s priority, horticulture not being in the school systems curriculum, Stop manufacturing garbage consumer products and just throwing them into a pile on the ground or in the ocean, stop making garbage processed foods, stop throw away consumer objects. Culling animals and humans is stupid. Everyone grow something.


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