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Photo: Human canvas on Rio beach protests Brazil’s dam-building spree in the Amazon

human banner on rio beach at rio+20
The image was a collaboration between aerial artist John Quigley and a committee of indigenous peoples including Aldamir Sataré-Mawé (Amapá), Sheyla Juruna (Pará), Dione Vison Terena (Mato Groso do Sul), Augusto Kaigamg (Rio Grande do Sul), and Capitao Potuguara. Image courtesy of Amazon Watch.

Nearly 1500 people formed a human banner on a beach in Rio de Janeiro today to protest plans to build dozens of dams in the Amazon basin, reports Amazon Watch, an NGO campaigning against Brazil’s controversial Belo Monte dam.

The image depicted a first nations member reaching toward the sun and included text reading “Rios para a vida” (“Rivers for life”). Organizers say the display “symbolized the important role of indigenous knowledge and a strong preference for meeting our collective energy needs through renewable sources like solar power”.

“Rivers should be dedicated to supporting the life of the millions of humans who depend on them and … should remain undammed,” stated a press release issued by Amazon Watch, Articulation of Brazilian Indigenous Peoples, the Global Campaign for Climate Action, and the Rainforest Action Network.

The action especially targeted the Belo Monte dam, which has become a sore point for Brazil as it hosts the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Belo Monte will flood tens of thousands of hectares of rainforest, displacing thousands of people and blocking important fish migration routes, potentially disrupting livelihoods of large numbers of river-dependent communities.

“We want to tell the world that the rivers, people and the planet need to be saved. The message of the banner is that we can live more sustainably, respecting the Earth’s people and without destroying its natural resources,” said indigenous leader Sheyla Juruna in a statement. Juruna’s community may be forced to move when the dam becomes operational.

Brazil intends to build some 60 hydroelectric projects in the Amazon region in coming decades. The government says the dams represent a source of clean, renewable energy, but critics maintain the damage they cause outweigh the benefits. Tropical dams emit large amounts of carbon in the form of methane, according to scientists.

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(03/23/2012) Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River is now under construction despite its many controversies. The Brazilian government has launched an unprecedented drive to dam the Amazon’s tributaries, and Belo Monte is the spearhead for its efforts. Brazil’s 2011-2020 energy-expansion plan calls for building 48 additional large dams, of which 30 would be in the country’s Legal Amazon region1. Building 30 dams in 10 years means an average rate of one dam every four months in Brazilian Amazonia through 2020. Of course, the clock doesn’t stop in 2020, and the total number of planned dams in Brazilian Amazonia exceeds 60.

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