Belo Monte Dam will be the world’s third-largest hydroelectric project. At a cost of roughly $16 billion, it is one of 30 large dams that have been announced for Brazil’s Amazon region.


It will radically transform the land and the lives of at least 20,000 people, including thousands of Indians who have lived along the Xingu River for centuries. Certain environmental groups say the dam will flood more than 120,000 acres of rain forest and release an enormous amount of the greenhouse gas methane from rotting vegetation suddenly placed on the bottom of a reservoir.


The Brazilian Amazon, home to 60 percent of the world’s forest and 20 percent of the Earth’s oxygen, remains threatened by the rapid development of the country.


The Belo Monte project, which has been in the pipeline for 30 years, remains controversial. Opponents – including celebrities such as the rock star Sting, the actress Sigourney Weaver and the film director James Cameron – accuse President Dilma Rousseff’s government of turning a blind eye to the consequences of Belo Monte, to both the fate of the native tribes affected and the ecological future of the Amazon region. Erwin Kräutler, the Austrian-born bishop of Altamira, a city near the construction site, said: “Belo Monte is a dagger in the heart of Amazonia.”


On the other hand, the consortium believes Belo Monte is vital for the further development of the Brazilian economy: with a generating capacity of 11,233 megawatts, the plant is set to be the world’s third-biggest hydroelectric plant – after the Three Gorges Dam in China and the Itaipu Dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border – and cover 11 percent of Brazil’s power requirement.


A spokesperson for Norte Energia said: “Belo Monte will supply 16 million Brazilians with electricity. These people will have the chance to move out of poverty into the middle class.”


Brazil, the so-called country of the future, continues to make its remarkable entrance onto the world stage — with a growing economy, the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics two years later — it’s whittling away at one of the planet’s most vital resources, the Amazon, while ignoring the continuing drama facing the people who live along the Xingu River.

This project is part of our The New Brazil group project.