The struggle against Brazil’s Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River continues as today indigenous groups sent a formal petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to suspend the dam’s construction, stating the dam violates human rights. The dam, which has been contentious in Brazil for decades, would flood 500 square miles of rainforest, lead to the removal of at least 12,000 people in the region, and upturn the lives of 45,000 indigenous people who depend on the Xingu River for survival.
The petition, put forth by Xingu Alive Forever Movement, and signed by representatives of communities that would be impacted, contends that “despite the gravity and irreversibility of the impacts of the project to local communities, there were no appropriate measures taken to ensure the protection of human rights and the environment.”
The Brazilian government argues that the dam, which was originally proposed in the 1970s under a military dictatorship, is necessary for increasing energy demands in the country. The 11 to 17 billion dollar dam would provide energy to 23 million homes, yet during three to four months of the year the dam will only run 10-30 percent capacity due to low waters.
Critics argue that for the dam to be at all viable—and economical—other massive dams will need to be built on the Xingu River as well, causing further ecological damage and upending more lives.
“The government doesn’t even know what will happen to the communities on the Xingu River,” said Andressa Caldas, the director of Justiça Global, a signatory to the petition. “We have seen assessments from environmental agencies—like IBAMA and [Brazil’s indigenous agency] FUNAI—and those from groups of specialists, that the construction of Belo Monte will increase illness and poverty, while causing a surge of disorderly migration to the region that will overload health, education, and public safety infrastructure.”
The Belo Monte dam recently garnered worldwide attention after James Cameron, director of the popular film Avatar, visited indigenous groups, which would be affected by the dam and stated parallels between the plot of his eco-adventure and the threat of the Belo Monte.
“For people living on the banks of the river, as they have for thousands of years, the damage done (by the dam) would destroy their way of life,” Cameron said in a press conference following his trip, according to Agencia EFE. “There are always other solutions when good leaders play their part to solve a problem.”
While dams are often posited as green energy, recent studies have shown differently, especially in the tropics. Due to methane emissions from rotting vegetation, some tropical dams could emit more greenhouse gases than energy from fossil fuels, such as coal.
(05/25/2010) Tensions are flaring after Brazil’s approval of the Belo Monte dam project last month to divert the flow of the Xingu River. The dam, which will be the world’s third larges, will flood 500 square miles of rainforest, lead to the removal of at least 12,000 people in the region, and upturn the lives of 45,000 indigenous people who depend on the Xingu. After fighting the construction of the dam for nearly thirty years, indigenous groups are beginning to talk of a last stand.
(04/20/2010) An auction to build the Belo Monte dam, a massive hydroelectric project in Brazil, is going ahead despite two court-ordered suspensions, both of which have been overturned. The dam, which would be the world’s third-largest, has been criticized by indigenous groups, environmental organizations, and most recently filmmaker James Cameron who created the wildly popular Avatar.
(04/01/2010) After creating a hugely successful science-fiction film about a mega-corporation destroying the indigenous culture of another planet, James Cameron has become a surprisingly noteworthy voice on environmental issues, especially those dealing with the very non-fantastical situation of indigenous cultures fighting exploitation. This week Cameron traveled to Brazil for a three-day visit to the Big Bend (Volta Grande) region of the Xingu River to see the people and rainforests that would be affected by the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Dam. Long-condemned by environmentalists and indigenous-rights groups, the dam would destroy 500 square kilometers of pristine rainforest and force the relocation of some 12,000 people.