Outrage as massive dam gets go-ahead in Amazon
Published 22/04/2010 | 05:00
BRAZIL has finally given the go-ahead for one of the world's largest hydroelectric dams to be built in the Amazon, after 35 years of battles with rainforest tribes and environmental campaigners.
The Belo Monte dam will flood almost 193 square miles of villages and forest, displacing up to 40,000 people.
The decision provoked immediate protests and threats of violence from indigenous groups and environmentalists, who have fought the project with court cases, demonstrations and even machetes.
James Cameron, the Hollywood film director, entered the fray by comparing the story of a tribal people under threat to the plot of 'Avatar', his recent blockbuster.
Despite a last-minute injunction and threats of further legal action from environmental groups, the project has been pushed through. Norte Energia, a consortium of nine companies, won the right to build the huge dam that developers claim is "a gift from God".
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the popular president of Brazil who has argued that his country has the right to develop before it can protect rainforests, said the dam would provide clean and renewable energy to power the growing economy.
It is estimated that Belo Monte could supply 6pc of the country's electricity needs by 2014, the same year that Brazil will host the World Cup and two years before Rio de Janeiro holds the 2016 Olympics.
The £7bn (€8bn), 11,000-megawatt dam, to be constructed on the Xingu River feeding the Amazon, would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric energy producer, behind the Three Gorges dam in China and the Itaipu dam that straddles the border of Brazil and Paraguay.
It could require as much concrete as was used to create the Panama Canal. The consortium includes Eletrobras, the state electric company, and a group of Brazilian construction companies. The contract was awarded after a series of court injunctions that had disrupted the auction process right up to the last 24 hours.
As soon as the result was announced, the environmental group Greenpeace dumped piles of manure outside the national electricity agency in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, where the auction took place.
Greenpeace claims that the dam will be inefficient, since it will generate only one-tenth of electricity during the dry season. It also fears that the ruling could lead to more dams being built throughout the rainforest. The project was originally conceived in 1975 during Brazil's military dictatorship, as part of a larger group of five dams, but immediately ran into trouble.
Singer Sting joined protests in the 1990s and officials have been threatened with machetes recently by angry local people. Most of the protests are from the Brazilian Indians living on the banks of the Xingu and environmental groups.