Thu, Apr 22, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Brazil awards dam bid despite protests

POWER PLAY Indigenous groups and environmentalists said construction of the dam was ecologically irresponsible and would threaten the livelihood of 12,000 families


Brazil on Tuesday speedily awarded the tender for a controversial hydro-electric dam projected to be the world’s third largest, despite fierce opposition from environmentalists.

The government pushed ahead with the bidding process to begin construction of the giant Belo Monte dam after beating back a last-minute suspension order with a rushed appeal.

The tender was awarded to Norte Energia, a consortium led by a subsidiary of the state electricity firm Electrobras, after a series of court injunctions that had blocked and unblocked the auction process.

Indigenous groups and environmental activists had earlier staged demonstrations decrying the dam as ecologically irresponsible and a threat to the livelihood of 12,000 families, most of them Brazilian Indians living on the banks of the Xingu river that would feed the facility.

“We, the indigenous, demand justice and respect,” read one placard brandished by protesters in front of the National Electric Energy Agency in Brasilia, where the tender process was held.

About 500 activists with Greenpeace dumped 3 tonnes of manure in front of the building.

“There are other possible energy sources, such as wind power, biomass or solar,” a Greenpeace spokesman said.

Opponents of the construction said they would not be defeated by the awarding of the tender.

“We will not be discouraged, we will continue to demonstrate,” said Renata Pinheiro of the Xingu Vivo movement.

They said they planned to occupy some of the 500km² of Amazon rainforest land that Greenpeace estimates would be flooded by the dam.

The environmental group has said the construction would also divert about 100km of the Xingu river in an area that is home to 20,000 to 30,000 families.

The dam has become spectacularly controversial, with even Avatar director James Cameron and star Sigourney Weaver wading in recently to give their backing to opponents and drawing parallels with the natives-versus-exploiters storyline of their blockbuster Hollywood movie.

The regional justice ministry in the state of Para tried to stall tenders for the US$10 billion-plus Belo Monte project in a ruling, calling the dam “an affront to environmental laws.”

It said too many questions remained over how the massive project would affect flora and fauna in the region and what would become of the families who would have to be relocated.

The government, though, appears determined to push through with the dam, calling it essential to its plan to boost energy production in Brazil, Latin America’s biggest economy, nearly three-fold over the next two decades.

With an estimated construction cost of US$11.2 billion, Belo Monte is expected to be able to produce 11,000 megawatts, which could supply 20 million homes with power.

The dam would be the third-biggest in the world, after China’s Three Gorges facility and Brazil’s Itaipu dam in the south, and has been defended by some in the local population who hope to benefit from the estimated 18,000 direct jobs and 80,000 indirect jobs that the government says the project will create.

Hydro-electric energy accounts for 73 percent of the energy produced by Brazil.

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