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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: When viewing the environmental impacts of the Belo Monte project, especially those relating to biodiversity, I think it's important to remember that this project is not occurring in a vacuum. Estimating how much water the dams will displace, and how many people and ecosystems will be displaced or otherwise harmed by the construction does not take into account holistic or cumulative effects. Would it be possible for us to look at dam construction in Brazil as if dams were a species, and apply to concept of beta diversity to better understand how "dam populations" correlate with biodiversity loss, displacement of indigenous and rural people, and the proliferation of mines? That is to say, could we adapt a tool from biology which accounts for the relationships of populations across space and time to gain a broader perspective of how dams will impact surrounding people and ecosystems?
    While the individual impacts of Belo Monte sound awful for the majority of people in the area, and for local ecosystems, it seems likely that they impacts of the dam, when viewed in context of increasing mine and dam construction, would be even worse. This type of research might be able to give a new and strong voice to indigenous rights advocates and conservationists in Brazil.

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