The dark side of Brazil's Belo Monte dam
Brazil’s largest construction project currently underway isn’t to patch up the unfinished stadiums hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Thousands of miles north, at the heart of the Amazon basin, Brazil is working to harness the potential energy power of the Xingu River in building the massive Belo Monte dam.
By the time it’s scheduled to be complete in 2019, the dam will be the third largest in the world, ranking behind China’s Three Gorges and the Brazil-Paraguay Itaipu. Belo Monte currently tops any hydropower plant under construction anywhere in the world, adding to the 80% of Brazil’s energy that already comes from hydroplants.
The dam, estimated to bring in 11,233 megawatts of electricity at capacity, would generate power to help provide for residential and commercial use throughout Brazil. But not without costs, beyond the estimated $14.4 billion price tag.
The Belo Monte dam poses a major humanitarian and environmental crisis for activists fighting to preserve the Amazon’s major tributaries and the communities of the many indigenous tribes in the region. Legal challenges have already stalled the project on a number of occasions. Hollywood filmmaker James Cameron even launched off his blockbuster hit Avatar to make a documentary comparing the film’s fictional destruction of the environment to the construction in Brazil.
One of the cities in the region hardest hit by the construction project is Altamira. At least 20,000 people living there are expected to be forced from their homes, but activists estimate that as many as 40,000 may be displaced.
Meanwhile, thousands of migrants brought to the area to build the Belo Monte are fueling an underbelly society of crime, drug use and prostitution, tearing apart the region’s indigenous tribes.
Photographer Tommaso Protti went to the region to capture the human crisis threatening the communities along the Xingu River.
“The project aims to explore the sense of instability present in the city of Altamira and the area affected by the Belo Monte dam, and raise questions on the social impacts resulting from the creation of massive hydroelectric dams.” Protti writes.