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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: Indigenous people in the Amazon definitely have the right to decide their ancestral homeland’s future and boycott the construction of Belo Monte project and future upstream dams. Since Brazilian government’s logic of how Belo Monte dam is necessary for providing electricity for all Brazilians, is actually based on several myths. First of all, Belo Monte will not provide “clean and renewable” energy as the project predicted, Belo Monte’s 668Km2 reservoir will flood 400Km2 of forest and big dams in tropic area will cause enormous emission of methane gas. Methane is 25 times more potent than CO2. Secondly, Belo Monte will become the most energy inefficient dams in Brazil, since during dry season it can only produce 10% of its 11233MW predicted capacity. What is more, not all the energy will power Brazilian families. Only 70% will be sold to the public, the rest 30% energy will be resold to energy-intensive industry, such as mining. The establishment of the dams actually increases mining expansion in the Amazon region, and will lead to vicious cycle in energy consumption. Mining also lead to other threats in biodiversity.
    However, the definitive installation license of the dam was granted in June 2011 and the construction seems to move onto accelerating phase. We should aim to think up of backup plan to decrease the threat of the mega-dam to biodiversity, if the program cannot be stopped. For instance, Stop future construction of upstream dams; Establish laws to strictly regulate hydroelectricity energy use in order to avoid waste or further pollution, such as mining threats; Establish conservation program for threatened species, such as captive breeding, zoos. Compute the overall risks of other energy alternatives and find out the cleanest one.
    The “Amazon Watch” is a major website for supporting indigenous people and protecting Amazon region, you can find much more valuable information there and take action to tell the government that the Amazon is not for sale.

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