James Cameron, director of Avatar, was in Brazil this week accompanied by Avatar stars Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore, and wife Suzy Amis Cameron to raise worldwide awareness about Brazilian indigenous communities’ battle to stop the massive Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River in the Amazon rainforest.
The Brazilian Government is auctioning the Dam project on April 20th. As reported on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, Cameron visited the lower Xingu River basin from March 28-30 and was asked by leaders from indigenous communities to help them fight the dam, which is expected to devastate their environment and way of life. Given the urgency, Cameron agreed to return to Brazil to support Brazilian civil society’s campaign to challenge the dam.
On April 12, Cameron and Avatar stars traveled to Brasilia to join demonstrations planned by Brazilian organizations including the Xingu Alive Forever Movement (Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre and the Movement of Dam Affected Peoples). From April 13-14, Cameron and delegation will travel to Xingu River’s Big Bend (Volta Grande) region in Pará State to join a gathering of indigenous and local communities who are affected by the dam project.
“There are many logical arguments against this dam,” wrote Cameron in a letter to President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. "The Belo Monte dam will inundate over 500 square km of land, and divert nearly the entire flow of the Xingu through two artificial canals to the dam’s powerhouse. This alone will leave Indigenous and traditional communities along a 100 km stretch of the Volta Grande without water, fish, or a means of river transport. The lowering of the water table would destroy the agricultural production of the region, affecting Indigenous and non-Indigenous farmers, as well as water quality.
“In all probability, the rainforests in this region would not survive. The formation of small, stagnant pools of water among the rocks of the Volta Grande will be a prime environment for the proliferation of malaria and other water-borne diseases. Communities upstream, including the Kayapó Indians, will suffer the loss of migratory fish species that are a crucial part of their diet.
"In addition to these devastating impacts to the Volta Grande, an estimated 20,000 people will be forced from their homes, including inhabitants of the city of Altamira, which will be partially flooded. While in the region, I also met with community leaders in Altamira, including lawyers, environmentalists, academics and even the Bishop of Altamira, Dom Erwin Kreutler. I heard their heart-wrenching concerns. The people of Altamira will face displacement due to flooding of their homes, a rise in disease from stagnant water, and an influx of one hundred thousand workers without the infrastructure to support them."
If built, the dam would be third largest in the world and cost between US$12.3 to US$17.5 billion. The project would divert 80 percent of the flow of the Xingu River along a 100-km length of the river, drying the lifeline of tens of thousands who depend on the river for their survival. To build Belo Monte, more earth would have to be dug than was moved to build the Panama Canal and; the dam will flood a 500 square km of rainforest and a significant area of the City of Altamira.
The Brazilian Government approved Belo Monte’s environmental license despite widespread public opposition and serious questions on the dam’s economic, social, and environmental viability. Companies considering entering the project include Andrade Gutierrez, GDF Suez and US-based mining giant Alcoa.
Financially, Belo Monte is a risky project generating only 10 – 30 percent of its 11,000 Megawatts (MW) installed capacity during the dry season, and average only 4,462 MW annually. To make the project viable, additional costly dams would need to be built further upstream threatening a vast area of tropical rainforests and affecting many of the 24 indigenous groups along the Xingu River.
To read Cameron’s full letter, click here.