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Katrina Holcomb

student of biology, University of Oregon

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Will the Belo Monte Dam project on the Amazon River cause more harm to the environment or will it be a good source of energy for Brazil?

The Amazon rainforest is an internationally recognized epicenter of biodiversity. Countless campaigns to stop the cutting and burning these rainforests have fallen on deaf ears. Now the Brazilian government plans to build what would be the world's 3rd largest dam [1] on the beautiful and ancient Amazon River. The Belo Monte project would span the Xingu River with 3 different dams: 233MW Pimental, 233MW Bela Vista, and 11,000MW Belo Monte. In addition, two artificial canals must be built to divert the river, which together will span more area than the Panama Canal.

These dams will have a myriad of negative impacts on the local environment. Construction of the dam will cause about 400-640 sq km land upstream to become flooded for a reservoir - an area equal to the size of Chicago. The town of Altamira will be flooded as well as countless acres that house the region's tribal populations. The impact on biodiversity includes 6-8 species of fish endemic to the Amazon River that will likely go extinct as well as a 2% decrease in the total forested area of the Amazon rainforest.

Organisms endangered by the construction of Belo Monte cannot verbalize their traumatic destruction of their ecosystem, but the indigenous people of the Amazon can; they are currently protesting the construction of the Belo Monte project through an "occupy" movement.

Belo Monte project is the first of many dam projects planned for the Brazilian portion of the Amazon River. Do these indigenous people have a right to decide what happens to their ancestral homeland? Or is the Brazilian government in the right by providing power for the majority of their country? Will the Belo Monte become the Belo "Muerte" dam (aka dam of death)?

Here's a 10 minute video that covers the impact the Belo Monte dam on the Amazon:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-seAAIsJLQ [1]

Related articles:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/apr/03/brazil-dam-activists-war-military [2]

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    May 14 2013: This isn't only an issue in brazil, China also plans to build a series of 13 hydro-electric dams in China's last free flowing river, the Salween a.k.a. Thanlwin. The project will supposedly displace about 40,000 people and submerge 20 miles of land. I believe these questions apply for all rivers being threatened by plans to build major hydroelectric dams.
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      May 14 2013: In an article from Scientific American, they discuss the damming options on the Yangtze River. "There are 338 kinds of freshwater fish in the Yangtze River and the 162 of them are endemic to the river. It seems obvious that many or all of them could be impacted by a dam in the middle of the reserve." The Xiaonanhai Dam will be built in the middle of the Upper Yangtze Native and Rare Fish Reserve.

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=damming-the-yangtze

      Wow, and we thought the Amazon has it bad. Imagine what this will do to China's native fish species. It's absolutely amazing how these huge dam projects are being undertaken and rarely do we hear them publicized. How many other countries are doing the same as Brazil and China? And even if there are, is there a way to make them change their minds about destroying biodiversity for energy generation?
      • May 14 2013: It's amazing to me that is this going on in Brazil and yet this is the first I have heard of it! The fact that China may be headed the same direction is really scary. It's always easier to see and except quick reward for choices that are made but the consequences are not considered until it is too late. Unfortunately money talks and holds a lot of power in our world even if it hurts us in the long run.
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        May 14 2013: It appears that nothing stands in the way of progress. Not world protest, not biodiversity, scientific scrutiny, not rainforest...

        Came across this bit while reading about Itaipu dam on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. This dam was built in the 70s and 80s. It is extremely efficient and is considered one of the 7 wonders of the modern world, BUUUT......

        "When construction of the dam began, approximately 10,000 families living beside the Paraná River were displaced.[11]
        The world's largest waterfall by volume, the Guaíra Falls were drowned by the newly formed Itaipu reservoir. The Brazilian government liquidated the Guaíra Falls National Park, and dynamited the submerged rock face where the falls had been, facilitating safer navigation, thus eliminating the possibility of restoring the falls in the future. A few months before the reservoir was filled, 80 people died when an overcrowded bridge overlooking the falls collapsed, as tourists sought a last glimpse of the falls."

        Pretty bleak. And this is nothing new indeed.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itaipu_Dam

        Edit: Here's an article about the destruction of Guaira falls http://www.internationalrivers.org/es/node/1611

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