Photo Essay

  • A view of the Belo Monte Dam construction site in Belo Monte, Brazil, May 13, 2014. The planned capacity of the dam complex is 11,233 megawatts (MW), which would make it the second-largest hydroelectric dam complex in Brazil and the world's third largest in installed capacity. Once completed, the dam will divert 80% of the Xingu River's flow, flooding an area of 415 square miles and forcing the displacement of between 20,000 and 40,000 people.
  • The neighborhood Boa Esperanca in Altamira, one of the poorest of the city, will be one of the areas flooded by the Belo Monte dam, which will force out thousands of residents. This photo was taken on April 30, 2014.
  • A girl rests in a hammock in her home in the neighborhood of Boa Esperanca, one of the neighborhoods that will be flooded by the Belo Monte dam.
  • A resident of the Boa Esperanca neighborhood is seen inside his home, April 30, 2014. The neighborhood is one of the areas that will be flooded by the Belo Monte dam, which is estimated to displace more than 20,000 people.
  • Approximately 300 Brazilian families occupy the rodeo space of Altamira, seen here on April 30, 2014. They are waiting for compensation from Norte Energia (the company responsible for the construction of the dam) after the flooding of their homes. But Norte Energia refuses to compensate them, claiming that the floods are the result of flooding season rather than as a result of the development of the dam. Opponents of the dam say that the families have the right to be compensated as their homes are located in an area of the city that will be affected by the dam.
  • A girl walks around her house in the Boa Esperanca neighborhood in Altamira. The development of the Belo Monte Dam is threatening the stability of neighborhoods like Altamira, which have seen a massive influx of people looking for work, and are threatened by flooding.
  • An overturned truck lies on the edge of the Transamazonica Road in Altamira, May 5, 2014. With the start of construction of the Belo Monte dam the municipality of Altamira has recorded an exponential increase in accidents.
  • Boys play in a small tributary of the Xingu river in a farm on the outskirts of Altamira, May 4, 2014.
  • A Brazilian family is seen inside their home in the Boa Esperanca neighborhood that will be flooded by the Belo Monte dam, May 6, 2014. 
  • A woman walks in the neighborhood of Boa Esperanca, where homes are built on slits to protect against seasonal flooding. The neighborhood is predicted to be under water after the construction of the Belo Monte dam, and some 20,000 people from Altamira will have to relocate.
  • Fishermen in Belo Monte, Brazil protest on May 13, 2014 against the Belo Monte dam by burning buses belonging to the dam-building consortium. The fishermen are demanding compensation for the loss of their livelihoods due to the changes to the Xingu's flow resulting from the construction of the Belo Monte dam. The current reduction of fish in the river is estimated at 60-70%.
  • Students return home from school on May 5, 2014, in the neighborhood of Boa Esperanca in Altamira, which will be flooded by the Belo Monte dam.
  • Fishermen navigate on the Xingu river, April 30, 2014. Because of the changes to the Xingu's flow due to the development of the Belo Monte dam, fish have begun to die, with a 60-70% reduction in the number of fish expected.
  • A fisherman is disappointed after a day of protests against the Belo Monte consortium, May 14, 2014. The fishermen want to be compensated for the loss of their livelihoods due to the changes to the Xingu's flow resulting from the construction of the Belo Monte dam.
  • Valdir, an old man from Altamira, lost his leg while working on the construction of the Tucurui Dam on the Tocantins river, in Para, Brazil. The Amazon basin is increasingly being targeted for intensive industrial development that include plans for the creation of massive hydroelectric dams and industrial waterways to transport natural resources.
  • A boy is seen in a farm between the cities of Altamira and Brasil Novo, May 4, 2014.
  • A man smokes crack cocaine in an abandoned house in Altamira, May 2, 2014. With the construction of the Belo Monte dam, the city of Altamira is witnessing to a spike in criminal behavior, including increased drug use.
  • An aerial view of the Xingu River, one of the major tributaries of the Amazon river, April 29, 2014. The Belo Monte dam is designed to divert 80% of the Xingu River's flow.
  • A burned out bus belonging to the dam-building consortium marks a day of protest from the fishermen of Belo Monte, May 14, 2014. Because of the changes to the Xingu River's flow and the level of its waters, fish have begun to die with an anticipated reduction of 60-70%, and the fishermen want to be compensated for the loss of their livelihoods.
  • Iuri Paulino, an activist from the movement People Affected by the Dam (MAB), is seen in his car in Altamira, May 4, 2014. Paulino has been working for 10 years advocating for the rights of people affected by the dams. He says, "the problem is not the dams themselves or the possibility of generating energy. The problem is that hydroelectric mega-projects do not benefit the general population but the multinational companies which generally generate few jobs where they operate. And for the most part they destroy the social fabric of the regions around the structures."
  • People in the street during a black out in the town of Brasil Novo, nearby Altamira, May 4, 2014.
  • Girls dance at a party on the outskirts of Altamira, May 2, 2014. With the construction of the Belo Monte dam, the demand of entertainment for the thousands of migrant workers in the city has increased.
  • A man is restrained from fighting during a brawl on the outskirts of Altamira, May 4, 2014. The construction of Belo Monte dam has caused increased tension in the area.
  • A street in Brasil Novo at night, May 11, 2014. The arrival of thousands of migrants in search of work has caused a demographic explosion adding a huge pressure to the already weak infrastructure and social services of the region.
  • A squad of the Brazilian Military Police patrol the streets of Altamira at night, May 12, 2014. The demographic shift in the city, with the influx of thousands of migrants looking for work on the construction of the dam has given rise to a spike in criminality and violent crime has spiked.
  • A girl smokes a cigarette outside a bar in Altamira, May 9, 2014.
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The dark side of Brazil's Belo Monte dam

Updated

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.