Early work has already started at the Belo Monte project site, despite ongoing legal battles and widespread international opposition.
Photo: Karla Gachet/Greenpeace

The Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River in Amazon is one of the world’s most controversial development projects. Despite widespread opposition and the destruction it will cause in the Amazon basin, the Brazilian government is moving ahead “at any cost”.

In order to feed the powerhouse of the Belo Monte dam complex, up to 80% of the Xingu River will be diverted from its original course, causing a permanent drought on the river’s “Big Bend,” and directly affecting the Paquiçamba and Arara territories of the Juruna and Arara indigenous peoples. To make this possible, two huge canals will be excavated, unearthing more land than was removed to build the Panama Canal. Belo Monte’s two reservoirs and canals will flood a total of 668 square km of which 400 square km is standing forest.

The flooding will also force more than 20,000 people from their homes in the municipalities of Altamira and Vitoriado Xingu. For the Xingu’s poor farmers, temporary employment created by the dam is not a viable replacement for lost agricultural lands and the river’s fish supply. Considered an “obstacle” to business interests, indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable.

Hydroelectric energy is touted as both a solution to Brazil’s periodic blackouts and as a “clean development” approach to global climate change. However, Philip Fearnside of the National Amazon Research Institute (INPA) has calculated that the forests flooded by Belo Monte’s reservoirs will generate enormous quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than CO2.

Belo Monte will be one of the most energy inefficient dams in the history ofBrazil. It will produce only 10% of its 11,233 megawatt (MW) installed capacity during the 3-5 month-long dry season, an average of only 4,462 MW throughout the year, or 39% of its nominal capacity. To guarantee a year-round flow of water, the government would need to construct a series of large dams on theXinguand its tributaries that will gravely impact forests and forest peoples.

For more information visit http://amazonwatch.org