Indigenous people, environmentalists and social movements in Brazil are condeming news that an environmental license was issued by the Brazilian environmental agency (IBAMA) for the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam.
The massive project, slated to be the world’s third largest, would divert the flow of the Xingu River and devastate an extensive area of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, threatening the survival of indigenous peoples.
Brazil’s state investment bank, BNDES is expected to finance up to 49% of the project. The dam is likely to be offered to private investors at an auction in April and construction is to start in late 2010, adding Belo Monte to a list of more than 100 large dams being planned in the Amazon.
Indigenous peoples have been fighting against the project for more than 20 years dating to when the rock star Sting publicized the battle.
Megaron Txucarramae, a Kayapo chief, says, “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.”
Independent investigations have found that project studies underestimate the extent of Belo Monte’s potential impacts. Two senior IBAMA officials resigned last November after complaining that they had been subjected to political pressure to approve the license.
Francisco Hernandez, an electrical engineer and co-coordinator of a group of 40 specialists who analyzed the project says, “Belo Monte is a project of doubtful engineering viability, an extremely complex project which would depend on the construction not only of one dam, but rather a series of large dams and dykes that would interrupt the flow of water courses over an enormous area, requiring excavation of earth and rocks on the scale of that carried out for digging the Panama Canal.”
Belo Monte would generate little energy during the three to four-month low water period, which does not justify an investment estimated at between US$ 12.3 and US$ 17.5 billion.”
Federal Attorneys have filed suit to force the government to hold additional public hearings to discuss the project’s impacts, and further legal challenges to the project are likely.