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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: I understand the Brazilian government's need to provide electricity for its citizens, but building the Belo Monte Dam definitely does not seem like the right way to achieve this. While the dam is expected to alleviate the electricity crisis in Brazil, it also comes with many negative consequences that probably can't be reversed. The amazon rainforest is home to ecosystems with some of the highest biodiversity in the world, and I constantly hear the phrase "save the rainforest," so I'm confused why the Brazilian government would be willing to destroy such important habitats.

    If the dam is constructed, it will certain cause decreases in the number of aquatic species as well as land species. The indigenous people who inhabit this area of the forest will be greatly affected by these changes, since they rely on these resources to survive. This will force these indigenous people to be displaced from their homes and moved to new habitats. Moreover, the entry of many immigrants to this area during the construction of the dam can bring diseases to the indigenous people, putting their lives at risk because they have little resistance to outside diseases. I think that the indigenous people absolutely should have a say in what happens to their homeland. However, I'm not sure about Brazil, but I know in many other Latin American countries, the indigenous people are treated with a lot of discrimination and have little to no influence in the governmental issues of their countries.
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      May 15 2013: It really saddens me to begin to consider the biological diversity that will be lost through this project. I think the consequences of the dam are only a portion of what will ensue. Going one step further concerning the introduction of immigrants, bringing diseases is just the beginning. As people relocate to the area, roads will pave the way for complete exploitation and disturbance of the once secluded Amazon area. From clearing areas for timber/agriculture, hunting (introduction of guns for hunting), and pollutants, the complex ecosystem will be inevitably be dismantled.

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