The Amazonas region covers nearly 40% of South America and its rainforest is the largest in the world. Much of the Amazon's depths have yet to be explored and many plant and animal species still remain undiscovered.
Habitat loss is particularly significant to the Amazon for this unique natural wonder has been under constant threat from aggressive human exploitation of its natural resources. Over 719,000 square kilometres of the Amazon rainforest have been cleared as of 2008, and large scale development and destruction within this region are ever-increasing.
Countless Amazonian Indigenous populations are suffering from habitat destruction, and thousands continue to be displaced from their traditional settlements. Moreover, deforestation, agricultural development, and Hydropower plants are not only forcing humans from their homes but millions of wildlife species as well.
The latest news on the proposed Belo Monte Hydroelectric dam project reveals the Brazilian government and federal judge Carlos Castro Martin have given the go-ahead for commencement of the word’s third largest dam. In Brazil’s Amazonas state of Para, near the city of Altamira, construction has begun on the country’s largest and most expensive project, the Belo Monte Hydroelectric dam. Despite years of controversy and protest over this project, which will utilize the Xingu river system to produce energy to a growing Brazilian populace, both national and international opponents of Belo Monte have lost the battle to preserve the ecological and social integrity of this region and its inhabitants.
Norte Energia, a conglomerate of more than 10 mining, engineering and construction companies, is leading the Belo Monte project. Brazil’s president, Dilma Rouseff, is in full support of the dam, stating it is necessary in order for Brazil to keep up with soaring domestic energy demands. Brazil’s economy experienced a 7.5 % increased in 2010, and now the $14 billion dollar mega dam is next on the list for the quickly developing nation. Although Rousseff boasts 86% of Brazil’s energy comes from renewable sources, the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam will cause irreversible damage to the environment and people of the region over the next 7 years while construction is completed.
A representative of the Amazon Watch organization claims the dam is an “unacceptable price to pay for a hugely inefficient mega-project carved into an extremely sensitive and precarious region” (Christian Porier, Amazon Watch).
In the state of Para, it is expected that over 24,000 people will be displaced from their homes, the majority of which rely on the forest and river for food and work. Critics of Belo Monte believe it is a violation of human rights to force Indigenous communities out of the homes they have built and from the environment they have lived in harmony with for thousands of years. Although Norte Energia insists the flow of the Xingu River will not be disrupted and local fishermen will not lose their livelihoods, local inhabitants have revealed run-off from the early construction has already contaminated areas of the Xingu many use for drinking and fishing.
Those being pushed off their land are being payed out by Norte Energia in the ranges of $11,000 per property. Some have tried to refuse but reluctantly end up leaving and watching their homes being torn down before their eyes. After decades of protesting against the proposed Belo Monte project, it is now a harsh reality for those directly affected, which is all too often poor Indigenous communities who have evolved and survived from the very land now being bulldozed away.Image © The Rio Times
Currently 5,000 workers are tirelessly clearing and carving through 3 work sites extending some 500 Km2 to make room for 2 future water reservoirs. Twice a day, dynamite is used to blast sub-terrain rock our of the earth as to make a path for the dam, while deforestation is predicted to range from 800 Km² up to 5,316 Km² depending on migration routes. Despite governmental claims that building of the dam would have to comply with Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department, FUNAI, and the National Environment Agency, IBAMA, it would appear that the nation’s environmental licensing system is falling away, leaving an open arena for this controversial project, and a staggering 48 additional dams planned for the future, to take over many of the Amazon river’s tributaries.
In a 2010 visit to the Xingu River region, filmmaker and conservationist James Cameron shared his view on the proposed Belo Monte dam, stating, “If this goes forward then every other hydroelectric project in the Amazon basin will get a blank cheque. It’s now a global issue. The Amazon is so big and so powerful, a piece of the overall climate picture, that its destruction will affect everyone.”
Citation: "Dam it: Brazil's Belo Monte stirs controversy". Gabriel Elizondo, Aljazeera 20.01.12 http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/01/201212015366764400.html. Mongabay.com 23.03.12 Blog post by: Phillip Fearnside of INPA. "Belo Monte Hudroelectric dam construction work begins". Tom Phillips, The Guardian. 10.03.2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/mar/10/belo-monte-hydroelectric-work. BBC-Latin America & Caribbean. Blog post 16.12.2011.
Amazonas is defined as the largest Brazilian state, covering the most terrain in the country. It is aptly named Amazonas as the Amazon river is a major natural phenomenon and priceless resource occupying most of its land mass. This region is made up almost entirely of dense rainforest, which encompasses more than 2,000 known species of plants and animals.
Populations living along the Amazon river and in the isolated regions of the forest live from the land, water and trees. With little development in most of the Amazonas state, Indigenous settlements have been relatively self-sufficient and traditionally occupy many of the rich landscapes within Amazonas. However, the past century has brought immeasurable changes to the once calm and peaceful region, with domestic and foreign development taking force.
Since the 1970's, 600,000 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest have been destroyed, The prominent reasons for this intense de-forestation are clearing for pastureland (e.g. cattle ranching), commercial exploitation of forest resources (e.g. logging), small and large scale commercial agriculture (e.g. soy crops), dams, mining, and urbanization.
These activities are devastating to the fragile ecosystems existing within the Amazon, and continuing a virtually uncontrolled expansion of human activities reduces biodiversity, water and land quality, and most certainly living conditions for Indigenous populations in the middle of this destruction. Amazonas is now facing changes to the chemistry of both its aquatic and terrestrial resources, and now we must also consider the adverse effects global climate change is having on this region.
At this year's United Nations general assembly, Surui tribal leader Almir Narayamoga candidly addressed members with the intent to precipitate support for the Indigenous populations forced from their land and protection for the countless species of wildlife losing their natural habitat and. In the face of illegal deforestation, Narayamoga addressed the devastating activities carried out by loggers, ranchers, miners and intruders on sacred indigenous land.
Under the Brazilian government's Growth Acceleration Program, large scale development plans are being implemented, and consequently their is an increase in conflicts between the Indigenous and those destroying their communities and natural resources.
Stating that currently 62% of deforested Amazon rainforest is used for cattle pastures, Narayamoga pleas with the United Nations and asks that they take direct action to protect restore, and respect the traditional values, habitats, and lives of Indigenous Amazonas populations and the surrounding living ecosystems.
The Amazon river basin and surrounding rain forest encompasses more than 1/3 of the entire world's wildlife.
The enormous tropical forest and 2nd longest river on the planet cover an area exceeding 5,400,000 km2!!
The Amazon's rain forest has the richest biodiversity, while the river system is home to over 2,100 fish species...with more being discovered every year!
Illegal gold mining and deforestation are two destructive practices threatening the Amazon. This vast area is home to numerous native communities that rely on their surrounding environment to survive.
A true wonder of the world, the Amazon rain forest and river basin require protection, restoration, and conservation action in order to withstand aggressive human exploitation.