New Study Shows Dam in Brazil Amazon Would Be Social and Ecological Disaster

Brazil's Xingu river A new independent review by a panel of 40 Brazilian experts show the true costs of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Project, planned for the Xingu River in the Brazilian Amazon. The panel found that the dam would have serious consequences for the region, its inhabitants, and ecosystems of the Amazon rainforest.

The panel – comprised of scientists from major Brazilian research institutions – reviewed the project's environmental impact assessment and delivered a 230-page report to Ibama, the Brazilian government's environmental agency, on October 1st.

One of the most alarming impacts identified by the specialists is that Belo Monte Dam would require diverting more than 80% of the flow of the Xingu, with impacts to fish, forests and navigation along a 100-km stretch of the river inhabited by indigenous communities. Impacts to fisheries would be severe, with the project causing the death of millions of fish along  the Big Bend.

The dam would cause the loss of biodiversity along the Xingu including the possibility of species extinction such as the zebra pleco and sheep pacu fish. The experts also found that the number of people who would be directly affected by the dam is likely far greater than the 19,000 indicated in official studies. More than 40,000 people could be affected.

Belo Monte Dam would be the world's third largest dam project. However, despite having an installed generating capacity of 11,231 MW, it would generate as little as 1,000 MW during the three to four-month low-water season.

Francisco Hernandez, electrical engineer and co-coordinator of the panel, said; "The experts panel highlights the folly of Belo Monte. According to private investors, the project could cost up to US$ 19 billion, making it an extremely inefficient investment given the fact that the dam will generate only a fraction of its installed capacity during the dry season. And this doesn't even take into account the enormous social costs and enormous devastation that the project would cause. No one knows the true costs of Belo Monte".

Glenn Switkes, Amazon Program Director for International Rivers, said, "A major part of the energy generated by Belo Monte will likely go to fuel the expansion of aluminum smelters and other mining and metals processing plants in the Amazon. Brazil has less destructive and cheaper energy alternatives – the Brazilian people don't need Belo Monte."

The panel also questioned the project's technical feasibility. According to Hernandez, "Belo Monte's engineering viability is doubtful, since the project would be extremely complex – consisting not of only a single dam, but in reality a series of large dams and dykes that would interrupt the flows of water over an extensive area, requiring moving a volume of earth and rocks on the scale of that excavated for the building of the Panama Canal."

The project is the largest in the Brazilian government's Growth Acceleration Program, which focuses on large-scale infrastructure projects, yet there has been little public debate regarding Belo Monte and its impacts.

Last week, Brazil's energy minister called critics of the dam "demoniac forces that are trying to pull Brazil down."

Brazil's environmental licensing agency, Ibama, is currently evaluating the project and says it should be able to issue a provisional license soon. The government plans to offer the concession for the project by December.

Quotes from the Experts' Studies


Jorge Molina Carpio, hydrologist: no technical justification is given to demonstrate that the project's so-called "ecological flow" will not severely impact the populations of the Xingu's Big Bend. "The Big Bend will suffer a reduced flow and a lowering of its water table along a stretch of about 100 km, causing various biological and social impacts, including problems for navigation, and effects on flooded forests". Also, "sediment buildup in the reservoir was not considered in the EIA".

Impacts on Fish and Aquatic Species:

Geraldo Mendes dos Santos, of the National Institute for Amazon Research (INPA): "the flow that will be allowed to pass the dam will never be greater than 8,000 m3, only about one-third of the natural flood stage of the Xingu, which reaches 23,000 m3". This means that the Big Bend will never again enjoy the natural conditions under which its plant and animal life developed. "Certainly, many of the species that live in this stretch of the river will not survive under a flow regime imposed by decree or administrative norms, whether these come from decisions of the government, the companies, or even of scientists".

Paulo Buckup, president of the Brazilian Ichthyological Society: "the reduction in stream flow will cause the death of millions of fish along 100 km or more of the Big Bend, and there will be nothing that can be done to mitigate or compensate for this impact".

Hermes Medeiros, an ecologist from the Pará Federal University, emphasizes that "the Xingu River basin has one of the greatest diversity of fish species that has been observed on the planet, with about four times the total amount of species found in the entire European continent. Aquatic mammals are mentioned in the EIA only in a descriptive manner. There is not a single paragraph evaluating the impacts the dam will cause them and the environment in which they live".

Impacts on indigenous people:

Antonio Carlos Magalhães, anthropologist: "All the principal engineering works will be close to indigenous reserves, which will be affected by the physical impacts of the construction and above all, the social and cultural impacts of living close to the work site, in constant contact with the work force and those looking for work". According to Magalhães, this region would suffer a permanent drought, even leading to a shortage of drinking water. "The communities would lose their natural resources and water, directly affecting their livelihood. Yet the indigenous peoples, river bank dwellers and farmers of the Volta Grande are not considered in project studies as directly affected".

Socio-economic impacts:

Sônia Magalhães, anthropologist from the Federal University of Pará state, and co-coordinator of the panel: "The EIA underestimates the rural population, and therefore the number of people directly affected by Belo Monte could be double the number indicated in the studies. Only through new studies can the real number be confirmed".

Oswaldo Sevá, mechanical engineer from the Campinas State University says "logic and ethics demand that people affected by the drying out of the river and the water table are considered just as affected by the project as those whose land and resources are flooded. Official estimates are clearly far below reality".


Hermes Medeiros says that the EIA fails to analyze the probability of greater deforestation in the region, which has already increased since the project was announced. These predictions of deforestation are important, considering the proximity of the work sites and workers camps to protected areas and indigenous reserves.

Greenhouse gas emissions:

Philip Fearnside, Ecologist from the National Institute for Amazon Research (INPA): "Hydroelectric dams emit methane, a greenhouse gas that has 25 times greater impact on global warming per ton than carbon dioxide. The authors of the EIA calculate low methane emissions because they only consider gas emitted on the surface of the lake itself and not from the huge amount of water passing through the turbines and spillway."


Executive Summary of Experts Reports in English available for download at

Complete Text of Experts Reports in Portuguese available for download at


  • Show Comments (12)

  • Matthew Darr

    To Mr. da Silva
    Sorry, I guess no debate, but how was your cold one? Enjoyable I hope,…as cold ones go……warm

  • Matthew Darr

    Related Article
    After reading a related article about the Kayapo and The Body Shop I sit back and wonder about my first comment…..Is the world better off with big business, small business, or no business…….What are the Kayapo views…how about your views?

  • Matthew Darr

    Again to ch.c
    Also about carpet dirt. I was a school custodian for 22 years. I prefer bare floors. They keep clean easier. Carpets tend to hold dirt and allergens, they spot up easily, wear out faster than bare flooring, emit toxins when they are first laid and use more precious natural resources especially if you keep replacing them .

  • Matthew Darr

    To ch.c
    Thank You for the welcome. I am a North American. The whole world is a stage and you are a player as well as I. I am somewhat aware of some of the problems on U.S. reservations; the same as in other non-reservation areas of the U.S. unfortunately. I studied tropical rainforests for 15 years and gave rainforest presentations to schoolchildren for the same time period. I have travelled to Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Peru and frankly love the rainforest cultures way of life much more than my cold-cutured urban life in the U.S. Stick with my own U.S. intersts? Again the world is the stage now. Play where you like. Personally, my passport is valid.

  • ch.c.

    Matthew Darr
    No one knows who you are yet, but welcome anyway !

    But…..but….but…if you are American, why dont you clean and settle first your problems with the INDIANS in America ?
    There too, in THEIR territories, there are ecological disasters, with so many mines being having been developed.
    And have you respected their interests ? or just transformed them to Uneducated and Alcolics and basically with NOOOO jobs ?

    And….and…and if Aussie you are, then you have the same problems with…… your arborigens….to my knowledge !

    But….but…but if Canuck you are, you also have a massive ecological problem with your OIL SANDS !

    Hmmmmmm !
    Funny to say what others should do…while not looking the hidden dirt below your own carpet !

    😉 😉 😉 😮

  • Matthew Darr

    Xingu Long Term
    The rich biological resources of the Xingu River basin need to be preserved foremost and the interests of local populations respected. Indigenous knowledge of the resource base should be tapped from Brazilian ethnobotanists for eventual cultivation and sales to world markets . There is miuch more money in sustainable development than in fast track destruction that will serve short term interests of mining companies via Brazilian government politicians. I urge the Brazilian government to think long term before acting.

  • Lloyd Cata

    Matthew Darr
    The correctness of your position and the veracity of your experience left your opponent with few options.
    Welcome and congratulations! 🙂 😉 😀 😉

  • João da Silva

    Matthew Darr
    [quote]What are the Kayapo views…how about your views?[/quote]

    OMG, You asking Comrade Ch.c about his views ? Sure he is going to express them with his customary bluntness. Lemme, get a cold one and enjoy the debate. Dr.Cata , “The Guest” and my humble self will be the moderators.

    Cheers, Matt. 😉 😀 😉

  • João da Silva

    Llyod Cata
    [quote]Seems Fidel keeps leaping ahead of me; even at his age! You see how his words are quite consistent with what I have been telling you for years about the dollar and how they will now buy Brazil and others with paper that will soon be worthless. I think Fidel actually likes Obama, which is surprising since he knows the embargo cannot be lifted this term.[/quote]

    Uncle Fidel keeping ahead of you, Dr.Cata? For some unknown reason, you have become modest these days . Modesty has never been one of our virtues. 😉 😀

    I would pay more respects to Fidel, if he is not forming dynasty of his own, like all the Latin “Rulers” do. The least he can do is to promote some one else that is not related to him and make him his puppet. Like Vladamir Putin did with Medvedev. 😀 😉

  • Lloyd Cata

    Funny You Should Ask…
    BUT….BUT, are Uncles Fidel and Ariel Sharon still alive?

    As of Friday Uncle Fidel was still a major voice for sanity and reason on a troubled planet. I am sure you will find his own words much clearer than mine;

    Seems Fidel keeps leaping ahead of me; even at his age! You see how his words are quite consistent with what I have been telling you for years about the dollar and how they will now buy Brazil and others with paper that will soon be worthless. I think Fidel actually likes Obama, which is surprising since he knows the embargo cannot be lifted this term.

    As for Mr. Sharon, perhaps you could give him the news when he wakes up.

  • João da Silva

    [quote]but the truth is that YOU DID IT TO YOURSELF! [/quote]

    Yeah. I promise [i][b]not[/b][/i] to blame anyone except myself, Doc. Gross dereliction of duties on my part, I must confess. 😥

    I don’t mean to be too forward by asking you sensitive questions. BUT….BUT, are Uncles Fidel and Ariel Sharon still alive? 😉

  • Lloyd Cata

    Economical? No! Ecological? No! Humane? No! Capitalist? Yes! Political?Yes! Corruption? Oh Yeah, For Sure!
    What is the nature of the proposal for this project?
    Since we see by scientific measure there is no other impetus for this project other than to supply energy to the large global industrial interests who wish to extract “the peoples” resources for their own profit. Nowhere do the rights of the present inhabitants come into play. Nowhere do the ecological rights of the Brazilian people or the world climate consideration come into play. Of what benefit do the Brazilian people get from this, other than the FACT that they will pay for this edifice to capitalist profit and greed.

    So let me see if I have this right;
    1) THE GOVERNMENT proposes to build a dam for energy.
    2) Brazil will shortly become a net exporter of energy.
    3) Energy is required for extraction of resources, (and local development) for more profits.
    4) A dam, with its inhumane and ecologically insane consequences, is the only method of energy delivery possible.
    5) Because of Brazils “new found” riches in the energy sector it only makes sense to tax the Brazilian people another $20 Billion (a very conservative estimate) to steal the resources of their land and make them refugees in their own country.
    6) The people who will benefit from this project are foreign interests with lots of cheap dollars to convince the politicians and the buraeucracy to allocate “the peoples” money, water, land, and the inheritance of their people, for profit.

    The is some truth in the above list, but it is up to individual conscience to find it. It is possible that the list is all true. Then the trick is to expose the lies. Who profits? Who loses? Where’s the money?

    Are the people to indefinitely suffer such abuse at the hands of foreign “interests”? If they want the resources let them pay with clean energy alternatives that are not detructive to the lives and ecology of the present inhabitants. They do not go this way because it is easier to pay for corruption than paying for your own energy. It is easier to make the people pay with their lives. The sad truth is that some will gladly pay with their lives to prevent such an outrage. IT IS SIMPLY UNGODLY…but it may define the course of Brazilian domestic energy and land use policy in the 21st century. Given the present “love affair” with many capitalists toward Brazil and its corruption, there will be many more confiscations of “the peoples” property for foreign profit. The only question is how far the government will push the people in order to build monuments to the glory of capitalist greed and corruption.
    Remember, you will push people for the Amazonia, you will push people for dams and development, you will push people for the Olympiad. At some point there will be “push back”, and perhaps you will blame Fidel ,or Mr. Chavez, or “the FARC”, or MST, or even the Empire, but the truth is that YOU DID IT TO YOURSELF!

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