Brazil’s Polemic Belo Monte Dam: The Social and Environmental Costs of a Mega-Development Project in the Amazon

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Amity Doolittle
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The Belo Monte dam currently being constructed in the Brazilian Amazon, which will be the third largest in the world when completed, is hailed by some as sustainable development while it is dismissed by others as disastrous. At the crux of this controversial development project is the challenge of balancing the need to conserve and protect the Amazon rain forest, the issue of social justice regarding the communities who will be affected by the dam, and Brazil’s need for more energy to sustain its economic growth and development. This paper traces the history of hydrodevelopment in the Brazilian Amazon and the evolution of the Belo Monte project since it was first proposed almost 30 years ago with the hope of understanding how the negative social and environmental impacts of large dams can be mitigated and the extent to which these measures are being implemented successfully. Although tremendous strides have been taken, there continue to be several important unresolved disputes regarding adequate compensation and pending environmental problems that are being ignored by the Brazilian government.