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.
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