Environmentalists and indigenous groups have denounced a government plan to build the world’s third largest hydroelectric dam in the Amazon river basin, which they claim will devastate the region.
The government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has approved the $US11 billion ($12.4 billion) Belo Monte project on the Xingu river that will flood 500 square kilometres and supply 11 per cent of Brazil’s electricity.
The project will need massive digging work similar to the Panama Canal and will bring in 85,000 workers and double the current population in the region.
Detractors say the dam in northern Para state will trigger droughts along a 100-kilometre stretch of the Xingu, displace thousands of indigenous people, attract an army of job-seekers, and accelerate the deforestation and destruction of the rainforest.
Environment minister Carlos Minc says the project has been issued “the most demanding environmental licence in history”, including $US800 million to mitigate environmental damage and protect indigenous areas.
The project’s construction contract will go up for bidding in April.
If completed, Belo Monte would become Brazil’s second-largest hydroelectric dam behind Itaipu and the world’s third largest behind China’s Three Gorges dam.
“This project only benefits companies … it will generate methane gas that will change the climate and displace 30,000 people,” Xingu Vivo Movement’s Antonia Melo said.
His movement encompasses 150 indigenous and social groups in Brazil.
Xingu Catholic Bishop Erwin Krautler, the project’s strongest opponent, said the dam would be extremely harmful to both the delicate Amazon environment and the people it harbours.
“The project completely underestimates the consequences which will be irreversible. Lula promised to consult the population, but there never was any talk,” he said.
Brazil is also building two other hydroelectric plants on the Amazon’s Madeira River.
© 2008 Australian Broadcasting Corporation