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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: Sorry if this has been stated/asked already, there are too many comments to sort through at this point. Although we have covered in class that it is exceptionally hard to assign a dollar amount to biodiversity, has anything been done to try to calculate the revenue that will be lost due to the environmental disruption caused by this dam? If it could be calculated and pointed out that the loss of biodiversity would generate a lot of loss in the terms of money, it might be a more convincing way to stop the project. Even obscure costs should be pointed out (such as cost for treating a higher number of malaria cases due the increased mosquito population that the dam will bring about.) Do you think it is possible/have you found anything in your research about the long term cost of the dam?
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      May 15 2013: I would assume that most of the costs are highly subjective. For example, in the video, it showed how flooding from the dam would put part of a city underwater. Well you can put a $ value on the property loss, but you can't put a value on the lives of the people who lived there, which would be destroyed. Another example is the habitat destruction that would lead to population losses in various species. Not to sound crude, but it's the middle of the freakin' jungle, so those animals that would die aren't likely to have much of a dollar value, but that doesn't mean that their loss would be low-cost (not taking into account biodiversity loss).
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        May 15 2013: I was wondering this as well because I think you can put a value on lives lost or changed. insurance companies tell us everyday how much they think our assets and lives are, and we are repaid appropriately for their loss. However, I'm wondering if they're getting well compensated for this inconvenience and loss of their own personal assets or has the Brazialian government ignored their cries for help. So as not to ignore the loss to biodiversity because they obviously can't easily be paid back, but would some other de-forestation projects be created from the profits of these dam building and mining operations?
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        May 15 2013: Derek: Even though it's the middle of the jungle I think there must still be a market value to all the fish in the area. I imagine the extinction of certain species will indirectly bring harm to some valuable wildlife. But again, it's hard to assign value to these types of thing especially with such an unpredictable outcome.

        Patrick: You bring up a good point. I would imagine the people in the city would be compensated, but probably not the tribes.

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