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Uproar in Brazil over huge Amazon dam plan

February 3rd, 2010

A controversial plan to build an immense dam in Brazil’s rainforest endorsed this week has attracted a formidable bloc of opponents: ecologists, indigenous Indians and Sting.

The facility, in Belo Monte in the northern state of Para, will be the third-biggest hydroelectric dam in the world once built, after the Three Gorges dam in China and Brazil’s existing Itaipu dam.

It will produce 11,000 Megawatts of energy for Brazil’s rapidly growing economy, with the project’s total cost estimated at 11 billion dollars.

Critics have lashed out at the move, warning it will leave vast environmental devastation in its wake.

Some 500 square kilometers (190 square miles) of land will be inundated, and indigenous communities living along 100 kilometers (62 miles) of the Xingu River feeding it will be displaced from their traditional territories.

The British singer Sting brought the issue to international attention last year when he invited a high-profile Brazilian Indian, Raoni, on stage to denounce the dam during a concert in Sao Paulo.

“It’s a project that only benefits companies. Despite all they say, it’s not ‘clean energy:’ it generates methane gas, which provokes climate change, and it will displace 30,000 residents,” Antonia Melo of the Xingo Vivo Movement that groups 150 indigenous and social groups opposed to the dam told AFP.

The region’s bishop, Erwin Krautler, counts among the fiercest opponents.

“The project completely underestimates the consequences that will be irreversible. (President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva) promised to speak with the population, but there was no dialogue,” he said.

The state prosecutor’s office has also raised questions over the project, which would see the local population double with the arrival of 85,000 job seekers, who would contribute to deforestation.

But the federal government, which has already had two other dams built on the Madeira river in the Amazon, insists the new dam meets environmental criteria.

“This is without any doubt the strictest environmental license in history. The company (that clinches the tender) will have to spend 800 million dollars in compensation,” notably over the loss of native lands, Environment Minister Carlos Minc said.

Energy specialist Adriano Pires said “Belo Monte will ensure clean energy production” at a time when Brazil is facing a five percent increase in energy consumption due to its economic expansion.

“In Germany, which is always cited as an example, 10 percent of the energy comes from renewable sources, whereas in Brazil, hydroelectric plants produce 90 percent of the electricity. We can’t give up on this because Belo Monte is important.”

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