Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam Stirs Controversy

Source: Al Jazeera

About 24,000 people will be displaced from towns in the Amazon to make way for the world’s third biggest dam.

Altamira, Brazil – Drive about 90 minutes outside this sultry Brazilian Amazon town, and into the thicket of the jungle, and a surreal, other-worldly scene appears.

It’s a place where dozens of steel arms with giant claws from land excavators cut into the red earth, carving out deep holes.

There are earth movers, growling bulldozers and dump trucks crossing switch back roads that lead into colossal man-made craters, while clusters of hard hat-wearing engineers, glare down inspecting it all.

This is the scene at the opening phase of the building of the largest and most expensive project in Brazil, and one of the most controversial projects in Latin America: The Belo Monte Dam, along the Xingu River.

Officially the ground breaking quietly happened in June of last year, but the heavy construction ramped up during the turn of the year, and is moving full speed ahead at a blistering pace.

Five thousand men are working in two shifts, from 7 am until 5 pm and from 5 pm until 2:30 am, six days a week.

The construction area is gigantic, comprising three separate work sites sites that will eventually merge together to form two reservoirs 500 square kilometres in size linked by a channel comprising the Belo Monte Dam complex.

Twice a day, dynamite is used to blow up hard rock under the earth to make way for the dam.

A ‘small city’ is being built inside the work area to accommodate some of the 20,000 labourers and engineers who will be working here by November 2013.

When completed, Belo Monte will be the world’s third largest hydroelectric dam and the latest cost estimate is $14bn.

The construction scene is all the more remarkable given that until a few months ago, Belo Monte’s future still seemed in doubt, as the project faced a wave of judicial injunctions, and opposition from indigenous groups and environmental organisations both in Brazil and abroad.

The judicial injunctions were primarily imposed by the federal prosecutors office in the state of Para where Belo Monte is located and they questioned the builders processes of environmental licensing, contracting bids and the rights of effected indigenous populations.

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