Belo Monte | World's Third Largest Dam Construction Threatens Kayapó

Semana Dos Povos Indiangenas, Photo by Governopara

Semana Dos Povos Indiangenas, Photo by Governopara

PARÁ, Brazil -- Despite environmental and humanitarian protests, the Brazillian government plans to build five hydroelectric dams on the Tapajos River. The river is an important tributary to the Amazon and if built, the dams will flood the area displacing both people and animals and destroying land considered sacred.

"The first Indian Park in Brazil was created in the river basin by the Brazilian government in the early 1960s. This park marks the first indigenous territory recognized by the Brazilian government and it was the world's largest indigenous reserve on the date of its creation.

Currently, fourteen tribes live on the reserve surviving with natural resources and extracting from the river most of what they need for food and water." (Source: Wikipedia)

Over the past few months, 13,000 people from the Munduruko tribe have protested the project which would threaten their land, livelihood and culture.

Their fight involves battling through new laws and ordinances saying indigenous people don't have a right to control what happens on their own land. It is disturbingly reminiscent to what happened to American Indians in the 1800s.

The government's claim is that the Amazon has enormous untapped hydroelectric potential which would provide needed clean energy for the country. To this end, the government is trying to circumvent the constitutional clause protecting native people and their land.

In terms of cost, hydro-power is Brazil's top alternative energy solution. Other viable options include wind, solar and fuel made from sugarcane.

Disputes over the Amazon are nothing new. Since the 1890s, loggers, ranchers, miners and more have been trying for a share of the Amazon's resources. In the past, warriors fought back with organized and sometimes violent protests, including forcible eviction from the territory.

Official governmental red tape is hard to handle, but this isn't the first time an Amazon tribe has fought the dam fight.  In 1989, with international support and the help of conservationist groups, the neighboring Kayapo tribe successfully prevented the building of the Kararao dam, which would have flooded the Xingu River.

They weren't as successful with the Belo Monte reservoir, also chosen to be built on the Xingu River, and slated to be finished by year 2015.

While some predict Belo Monte will lead to needed jobs and ease the nation's energy burden, others foretell the drying of the forest caused by the diverted water, the displacement of thousands of people whose homes are now underwater and the pollution and inevitable destructive influence roads and workers will have on the previously undisturbed forest.

Chiefs from over 60 villages have submitted a letter demanding the government consult and receive permission from native people before constructing the new dams. However, it is still unclear whether the campaign will be successful or if the Tapajos dams will become the next Belo Monte.

India-Backed Myanmar Dam Displaces Thousands

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Alex Hamasaki, Student InternLast Modified: 02:02 DST, 1 April 2013

Boy Protests Tamanthi Dam Project, Photo by International RiversSAGAING, Myanmar - More than 2,000 people were displaced in Northern Myanmar, according to human rights groups, for the construction of India’s Tamanthi Dam.

The Tamanthi Dam is financed by India’s National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) and local human rights groups are saying that the dam will affect 68,880 hectares of fertile farmland, displacing 30,000-45,000 people.

Aljazeera reports that John Laban, an ethnic Naga who used to live near the proposed dam site on the Chindwin River, says that people were not offered compensation nor new homes. Laban continues that the people forced from their homes now have no choice but to take day labor jobs.

Reportedly 2,4000 people have been forced from their homes at gunpoint in the Sagaing Divison. Naga, Kuki, and Shan ethnic groups living around the proposed dam site have been forcibly relocated since 20007.

According to a report by the Kuki Human Rights Group, people were forced at gunpoint to sign an agreement that said that they volunteered to move. Compensation, if offered, was as little as $5 USD per family.

The Myanmar army bulldozed Kuki, Naga, and Shan homes and villages, and villagers from nearby towns were forcibly recruited to help, reports Aljazeera. Many of the displaced were relocated to a new village called Shwe Pye Aye, which was named after the country’s former leaders General Than Shwe and Maung Aye.

Kuki activists later held a river protection prayer ceremony in the Leivomjang village. Eight of the organizers were beaten and interrogated by military personnel, reports Kuki Women’s Human Rights organization and Kuki Students’ Democratic Front. These organizers were forced to agree not to carry out further activities against the dam.

According to the deal between the Indian and Myanmar government, 80 per cent of the 6,685 gigawatt hours generated annually will be allotted to India, while the remaining 20 per cent will be used at the discretion of the Myanmar government.

In 2004, the NHPC negotiated a contract with Burma’s military junta to build the Tamanthi Dam on the Chindwin River in Northwestern Burma. The Anti-Tamanthi Dam Campaign Committee reports, “Where others see a human rights disaster, NHPC sees a prime business opportunity.”

The ramifications of the dam go beyond the massive displacement of Myanmar citizens. Thanlwin-lovers, an informal organization protesting the dam, suggested that “If the project goes on, the lower part of Thanlwin River will dry up and the ecology will be damaged. There will be floods in area along the upper part of the river too,” said Nan Hlaing, the secretary of the group.

The floods would affect the Tamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hukaung Tiger Reserve, which are homes for several endangered species such as tigers, elephants, and the Burmese Roofed turtle. The few that still exist live along the Chindwin River. Steven Platt from the Wildlife Conservation Society told Aljazeera that the erection of the dam would lead to the extinction of wild Burmese Roofed turtles.

Follow Alex Hamasaki on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Student Intern: @aghamasaki