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In the Amazon, Natives Fight to Stop Brazil's Next Big Dam

In the Amazon, Natives Fight to Stop Brazil's Next Big Dam

A group of local tribes occupied the Belo Monte Dam construction site last weekend, successfully suspending work on the country's biggest infrastructure project for the second time this month.

Brazil's Belo Monte Dam is the biggest dam under construction in the world. The $14.4 billion project intended to help meet rising demands for energy.

But local tribes worry the project could cause serious environmental damage. Dam reservoirs can create large amounts of methane gas, which can be more harmful than carbon emissions, and big floods. Another dam project in Brazil, Balbina Dam, flooded 930 square miles of rainforest after its completion in the 1980s; its reservoir is referred to as a "methane factory" by Philip Fearnside of the National Institute for Amazonian Research in a recent issue of the Economist.

Despite protests, Belo Monte Dam seems destined for completion and it won't be the only one to come to the area. Of the country's 48 planned dams, 30 are in the rainforest. Construction on Bele Monte is due to finish in 2019.

Below, a look at the altercations on the site of the Belo Monte Dam throughout this month:

An Amazon Indian occupies the main construction site of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam with others in Vitoria do Xingu, near Altamira in Para State, May 27, 2013. Indians from various tribes returned to force the suspension for the second time in a month, of the dam projected to become the world's third largest in energy production, opposing it for its impact on the environment and their livelihoods. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

Amazon Indians occupy the main construction site of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Vitoria do Xingu, near Altamira in Para State, May 27, 2013. Indians from various tribes returned to force the suspension for the second time in a month, of the dam projected to become the world's third largest in energy production, opposing it for its impact on the environment and their livelihoods. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

Police stand near Amazon Indians blocking the main entrance to the construction site of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, May 27, 2013. The banner reads, "Let's keep our river alive." REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

Amazon Indians from different tribes hold a meeting among themselves to discuss a government proposal to end their occupation of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam construction site, May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

Amazon Indians from different tribes hold a meeting among themselves to discuss a government proposal to end their occupation of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam construction site, May 8, 2013. The government sent a proposal for a negotiated settlement on the demands of the Indians, who responded that they are open to dialogue but need more time to study the proposal. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

Amazon Indians from different tribes hold a march to demonstrate their unity before delivering their response to a government proposal to end their occupation of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam construction site, May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

An Indian woman cradles her child while holding a banner in front of police, as Amazon Indians from different tribes hold a meeting with a government envoy to discuss a proposal to end their occupation of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

A Munduruku Indian named Paygomuyatpu takes photos with a camera left for him to use by a journalist who was expelled from the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam construction site, May 5, 2013. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

Amazon Indians from the Xingu, Tapajos and Teles Pires river basins argue with Luis Antonio (C), one of the supervisors of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam project, as they invade the main construction site in protest against the dam's construction, May 2, 2013. The Indians from the Munduruku, Juruna, Kayapo, Xipaya, Kuruaya, Asurini, Parakana, and Arara tribes are trying to force the paralyzation of the dam, projected to become the world's third largest in energy production, that they oppose for its impact on the environment and their livelihoods. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

Amazon Indians from the Xingu, Tapajos and Teles Pires river basins oblige a truck driver to abandon his vehicle as they invade the main construction site of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam site in protest against the dam's construction, May 2, 2013. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

Amazon Indians from the Xingu, Tapajos and Teles Pires river basins face a riot police officer as they invade the main construction site of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam site, May 2, 2013. REUTERS/Lunae Parracho

Author's note: A previous version mispelled the dam as Bele Monte

Keywords: Dams, Infrastructure, Brazil

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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