The Brazilian government has given the go-ahead to a controversial project to build a massive hydroelectric dam in the heart of the Amazon jungle. Brazil’s environmental protection agency has said yes despite objections from environmentalists and indigenous people who live in the area.
To be built in the jungle state of Pará, the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River will be the third largest in the world with a capacity of 11,000 megawatts, as Brazil seeks to meet rising demand for electricity from its expanding economy.
Environmentalists argue that the dam will upset the region’s delicate ecosystem, while local indigenous groups fear its construction will draw thousands of outsiders seeking work to one of Brazil’s remotest regions.
Erwin Krautler, the Catholic bishop of Xingu and head of the church’s Indian missionary council, says going ahead with the dam would have “unforeseeable consequences” among the region’s indigenous people. “These people will cry, they will shout, they will rise up,” he warned.
In 2008, local Indians attacked an engineer from Brazil’s state electricity company after he gave a lecture to them on the proposed dam, ripping off his shirt before cutting him with machetes.
Brazil’s environment minister Carlos Minc, announcing approval of the US$ 16.8 billion dam, admitted there was deep hostility to such projects, telling reporters: “Every hydroelectric plant is a war. The government wants them all approved and environmentalists want none.”
But he said Belo Monte would help Brazil in its quest to reduce carbon emissions. Latin America’s largest economy gets almost four-fifths of its electricity from hydroelectric plants.
The minister also said the original plan for a string of four dams flooding an area of 1,500 sq km had been scaled back on environmental grounds: “This would have made life in the region unviable. Now it will be one dam flooding 500 sq km.”
He insisted no indigenous peoples living on reservations would be among the estimated 12,000 people who will have to move because of the artificial lake the dam will create.