Brazil grants license for controversial Amazon mega-dam

February 3, 2010

Kayapó dance at an anti-dam protest, Piaraçu, Mato Grosso, Brazil, 2006. Two hundred representatives of the Mebegokre Kayapó people met for five days to discuss the Belo Monte dam and four other dams which will devastate their lands. © Terence Turner/Survival

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The Brazilian government has granted an environmental license for the construction of the controversial Belo Monte hydro-electric dam in the Amazon.

The dam, planned for the Xingu River in the northern state of Pará, will be the third largest in the world and is estimated to cost $17 billion.

It will flood 500 square kilometers of land, causing huge devastation to the rainforest, and have a major impact on fish stocks.

The livelihoods of thousands of tribal people who depend on the forest and river for food and water will be destroyed. Some face removal from their ancestral land.

Indigenous peoples are at the forefront of current protests. Last October Kayapó Indians and Indians of other tribes held a week-long protest against the dam.

In a letter to President Lula the Kayapó said ‘We don’t want this dam to destroy the ecosystems and the biodiversity that we have taken care of for millenia and which we can still preserve’.

The Bishop of the Xingu, Dom Erwin Krautler, also opposes the dam and warned that the Indians could resort to violence if their voice is not heard. ‘They will cry, they will shout, they will rise up’, he said.

Brazil’s Public Prosecutor’s Office is calling for the license to be canceled, stating that the environmental impact studies were incomplete, and that the Indians and other people who will be affected were not properly consulted.

Previous attempts to build the dam in the1980s failed following worldwide protests led by Kayapó Indians.

Dam building is a central part of Brazil’s Accelerated Growth Programme, which aims to stimulate the country’s economic growth by building a vast infrastructure of roads and dams, mainly in the Amazon region.

There was huge pressure on ministers to grant the license for the Belo Monte dam, which caused division and resignations within the government’s environment agency IBAMA.

Survival has protested to the government about the project.

Read more about dams affecting other Indigenous peoples around the world.