BRASILIA May 21 The construction of a proposed
dam on Brazil's Xingu river will flood homes of 16,000 people,
dry rivers and fuel logging, activists and tribal Indians
warned on Wednesday as concern over Amazon destruction rises.
The resignation last week of Environment Minister Marina
Silva, widely seen as a guardian of the world's largest rain
forest, has spurred concerns that Brazil's government will
accelerate roads, pipelines and power plants in the region to
fuel its fast-growing economy.
The Belo Monte dam, under the auspices of state power
company Eletrobras, would be one of the world's largest
hydroelectric power plants, after China's Three Gorges and the
Itaipu dam shared by Brazil and Paraguay.
More than 1,000 environmentalists and tribal Indians
gathered this week in the town of Altamira in the northern
state of Para to protest against the dam and discuss
An Eletrobras official, Paulo Fernando Rezende, was injured
and temporarily hospitalized on Monday in a skirmish with
Kayapo Indians armed with clubs and machetes who had started a
war dance in response to his upbeat presentation.
In 1989, an Indian protest forced a similar dam project to
be abandoned. Then, pictures of a Kayapo Indian woman holding
the blade of her machete to the face of today's Eletrobras
president figured prominently in local and foreign media.
The Belo Monte reservoir would flood around 440 square km
(170 square miles) and divert part of the Xingu, which flows
north to the Amazon river.
Residents fear their source of fish and water is endangered
and say construction and new roads will draw more settlers and
farmers, accelerating deforestation.
"Roads, buildings, service companies -- like most big
projects in the Amazon, the dam will bring much destruction and
little benefit for residents," said Ana Paulo Santos Souza of
the group Foundation Live, Produce and Protect.
The last major dams built in the Amazon in the 1970s --
Tucuruvi and Balbina -- caused food shortages and dead rivers
and displaced thousands of people, the environmental group ISA
Critics say the government is ignoring conservation
concerns about the project. Silva, a former activist in the
Amazon, had been increasingly isolated in the government over
her opposition to big infrastructure projects in the region.
"This government sees environmental licensing as a mere
bureaucratic process. They don't really care what the impact
study shows," Marco Antonio Delfino, an Altamira public
prosecutor, told Reuters by telephone.
A court last week temporarily suspended preparations for
the project's tender next year, citing irregularities in the
environmental licensing process, Delfino said.
With Brazil's economy growing at around 5 percent per year,
hydroelectric plants along the many rivers of the vast Amazon
region are essential to ensure power supply in the next decade,
the government says.
"Brazil needs clean energy with the lowest cost to
society," Eletrobras said in a statement. Belo Monte was the
best option because large quantities of energy were easily
integrated into the national grid, it said.
On Monday, a consortium led by French utility Suez won a
concession to build one of two hydroelectric plants, together
worth more than $12.7 billion, along the Amazon's Madeira
Construction of Belo Monte would take 5 years and the plant
would generate more than 6 percent of Brazil's power needs.
Because of seasonal rains, the plant will produce less than
10 percent of its capacity of 11,181 megawatts during nearly
half of the year, preliminary Eletrobras studies show.
"It's going to be the most inefficient dam in the world,"
said Glenn Switkes, director of the International Rivers
(Editing by Stuart Grudgings and John O'Callaghan)