Belo Monte Dam Construction – in Pictures

The controversial Belo Monte hydropower plant in the Amazon has attracted widespread criticism, and new photographs reveal the extent to which dam construction and deforestation have already started.

  • The Xingu River, where the Belo Monte dam is being built, is one of the largest rivers in the Amazon basin.
Photograph: Karla Gachet/Greenpeace
  • The Belo Monte would be the third largest dam in the world, and the second largest in Brazil. It is expected to submerge as much as 400,000 hectares and could displace an estimated 20,000 people.
Photograph: Marizilda Cruppe/Greenpeace
  • Critics of the project argue that neighbourhoods such as Invasão dos Padres, in the Brazilian city of Altamira near the dam site, would suffer greatly from its construction.
Photograph: Marizilda Cruppe/Greenpeace
  • Early work has already started at the project site, despite ongoing legal battles over environmental licences.
Photograph: Marizilda Cruppe/Greenpeace
  • The £7bn project is led by Norte Energias SA, and is scheduled to start producing energy on 31 December 2014.
Photograph: Marizilda Cruppe/Greenpeace
  • The government, led by president Dilma Rousseff, says the dam is necessary if Brazilian energy production is to keep pace with its economy. This grew 7.5% in 2010, but dropped off significantly to 2.7% last year.
Photograph: Marizilda Cruppe/Greenpeace
  • But indigenous and environmental groups, among others, counter that Belo Monte will displace tens of thousands of river-dwellers and bring violence, social chaos and environmental destruction – including deforestation – to the Amazon state of Pará.
Photograph: Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace
  • Aerial photographs taken by Greenpeace reveal that considerable clearing of land has already begun.
Photograph: Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace
  • James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director, visited the area last year to lend his support to the anti-dam campaign. 'If this goes forward then every other hydroelectric project in the Amazon basin gets a blank cheque,' Cameron said. 'It's now a global issue. The Amazon rainforest is so big and so powerful a piece of the overall climate picture that its destruction will affect everyone.'
Photograph: Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace
  • Supporters say hydropower is Brazil's best clean-energy option, but reservoirs have high emissions of CO2 and methane (with a warming effect 25 times stronger than CO2), because of decaying matter underwater.
Photograph: Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace
  • A further concern is that much of Belo Monte's energy output seems destined to power energy-intensive industries in the region, mostly mining and aluminium, meaning more deforestation and community displacement in the future.
Photograph: Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace
  • River communities are uneasy. 'I do not accept the Belo Monte dam,' said Mokuka Kayapó, an indigenous leader. 'The forest is our butcher. The river, with its fish, is our market. This is how we survive.'
Photograph: Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace
  • The licence obtained by Norte Energia SA, a consortium almost entirely funded by state money, allows 238 hectares of forest to be cut down in order to open roads and basic infrastructure for the workers.
Photograph: Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace
  • Rousseff's administration is now the one responsible for targets set by the previous administration, led by the more environmentally minded Lula, to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by a further 300,000 hectares.
Photograph: Daniel Beltrá/Greenpeace
  • The Amazon rainforest is a major global carbon sink. Its survival is threatened not only by deforestation but by climate change, which could kill trees and thus create feedback loops that increase global warming.
Photograph: Karla Gachet/Greenpeace
  • Greenpeace's newest Rainbow Warrior vessel sails through the Amazon. The campaign group is lobbying for a zero deforestation law.
Photograph: Rodrigo Baléia/Greenpeace

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