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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 15 2013: I believe a similar situation like this one happened on a smaller scale in Haiti in 1957. A dam was built which created Lake PĂ©ligre. This lake submerged much of Cange, a rural impoverished village in Haiti. Many of the people who had lived along the Artibonite River were displaced, just as they will be in Brazil. Much of the power generated by the dam doesn't even benefit the people of Cange, who were the most effected. I can only speculate on the biodiversity lost in this case, but I'm sure there was some. Considering Cange was engulfed in diseases like malaria and TB before the implementation of this dam, the results I'm sure only got worse. Considering malaria and TB combined can be incredibly more debilitating than either one separately was a huge concern, especially to Paul Farmer who took root in Cange and has battled malaria, HIV/AIDS, and TB for countless years there. I can only imagine the devastating impact this dam will have on the regions health as well as the impacts on biodiversity.
    It is a sad day when history repeats itself, especially when it is for the worse. The rich and powerful are the ones that matter and have the ultimate say. It is a sad truth to this world that I hope can change soon because everyone is a human being and deserves basic human rights, no matter how little money they may have.
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      May 15 2013: Large-scale development that has been occurring recently is frightening because the consequences are not concrete.The Cange area is difficult because they are faced with one problem while trying to fix another. Its a fine line because poverty promotes disease and disease promotes poverty. These government have just chosen an option that harms biodiversity and human health. Sadly, people tend to only react when it directly affects them so in this case I wonder does the Brazilian government think they will be doing it differently and therefore the consequences wont be as extreme?
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        May 15 2013: I think that dams are a great way to generate power, but in the case of Brazil at what cost? I think the Brazilian government is trying to find ways to generate more electricity and hydroelectric power is a very logical choice considering how many rivers flow through the Amazon Basin. The calculated loss of biodiversity and displacement of people the construction of these dams will cause is not worth it in my opinion and the Brazilian government would see that if they were actually trying to benefit the entire country. I doubt any of the displaced people would even get much of the benefits of the hydroelectric power which would be generated which is very sad.

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