Brazil court approves building of Amazon dam

Contentious Belo Monte dam project in the north to proceed without additional consulation with indigenous communities.

    Environmentalists and indigenous groups say the dam will devastate wildlife and the livelihoods of 40,000 people [EPA]

    A Brazilian court has said that construction of one the world's largest hydroelectric dams can proceed without additional
    consultation with indigenous communities in the region, despite a mass movement opposed to the project.

    Federal prosecutors had filed a motion calling for suspension of construction of the Belo Monte dam in the northern state of Para until indigenous groups were consulted and given access to environmental impact reports.

    In a two-one vote on Wednesday, the court upheld the decree issued by Para state authorising the dam's construction.

    The federal prosecutors' office in Para said in a statement it would go to the Supreme Court to appeal against the ruling.

    "All the studies made arrive at the same conclusion: the dam will provoke drastic changes in the food chain and livelihood of the indigenous communities," the statement said.

    When completed on the Xingu River that feeds the Amazon, the $11bn, 11,000-megawatt dam would be the world's third largest behind China's Three Gorges dam and the Itaipu, which straddles the border of Brazil and Paraguay.

    The government said the dam would provide clean, renewable energy and was essential to fuel the country's growing economy.

    Officials said they spent years planning to protect the environment and local residents before the dam was approved.

    However, environmentalists and indigenous groups said it would devastate wildlife and the livelihoods of 40,000 people who live in the area to be flooded.

    Environmental concerns

    Late last month, more than 600 protesters briefly occupied the dam's construction site to demand that work on the project be stopped. They were evicted by a court order a day later.

    In February, a court ordered the suspension of the dam project, citing environmental concerns.

    Ronaldo Desterro, the federal judge on the case at the time, said that environmental agency Ibama erred when it previously approved work to begin on the dam.

    Celebrities including rock star Sting, film director James Cameron and actress Sigourney Weaver have joined activists in lobbying against the dam.

    When Cameron participated in protests against the project in Brazil last year, he compared the anti-dam struggle by indigenous people to the plot of his film Avatar, which depicts natives of a planet fighting to protect their homeland from plans to extract its resources.

    Plans for Belo Monte began in the 1980s under a military government, but its construction was delayed largely due to environmental concerns and the resistance from activists.

    Environmental group Amazon Watch has said that 80 per cent of the river is planned to be diverted for the dam, which would cause massive droughts and flooded forests.

    In order to keep the dam in operation during the dry season, upstream and tributary dams would be needed to store water, causing further displacement and environmental havoc, the group said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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