Dams, Development & Destruction

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Munduruku people demonstrate in front of the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy, calling for the suspension of construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant. Photograph: Lunae Parracho/Reuters

Thanks to John Vidal and the Guardian for this coverage in Latin America:

The rains had been monumental throughout April 2014. By early May, the operators of the 219 MW Cachoeira Caldeirão dam being built in Brazil’s remote Amapá state knew that levels on the Araguari river were dangerously high. If some water was not released fast, the whole thing might collapse. There would be no danger to people because any run-off would be absorbed by two other dams downstream, the hydropower company thought.

But communications failed and no one warned the small town of Ferreira Gomes, nestled on the banks of the Araguari nearly 50km away.

On 7 May, seven hours after millions of gallons of water rushed out of the temporary coffer dam, the Araguari rose by 17 feet. Ferreira Gomes was swamped; public buildings were swept away, more than 1,000 homes and other buildings were flooded and thousands of people were forced to evacuate.

There is little evidence of that flood today in Ferreira Gomes and, seen from the air, the dam’s 30 sq km reservoir, surrounded by lush equatorial rainforest, looks quite natural. But the accident proved to Moroni Remuyna and many others in the town that big dams are dangerous to people and the environment, and that they do not bring development. “The history of dam-building has been one of incompetence, greed, illegality and callousness,” says Remuyna.

He works with Dam Affected People (Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens), a grassroots Brazilian NGO that opposes inappropriate dams. He says that the first dam built on the Araguari was also the first in the Amazon basin. “It was 1979. People were promised compensation when they were made to move, but no one got anything.

“In 2010 they built a second, bigger dam on the river. There was more deforestation and a massive die-off of fish. More people were forced to move and the river has never recovered ecologically. We are now worse off than before,” Remuyna told the Guardian earlier this year.

“The authorities said only 350 people were affected in Ferreira Gomes but it was thousands. Many people never got any compensation after the flooding. The government promised us economic development but they destroyed livelihoods.”…

Read the whole article here.

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