Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon

by Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente (AIDA)
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Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon
Empower Indigenous Brazilians to Save their Amazon

We're proud to present to you our newest report, Behind the Dams: BNDES Investments in Belo Monte and Hidroituango.

In it, we analyze the application of existing international standards for hydroelectric plants through the lens of two of the most important investments in the history of the Brazilian National Development Bank: Hidroituango (in Colombia) and Belo Monte (in Brazil).

The analysis reveals evidence and offers conclusions and recommendations to the Bank, as well as to the organizations and communities involved. They are concrete elements to help improve the future performance of the financial institution. 

We hope that these contributions strengthen the dialogue with the BNDES, and facilitate the identification of options toward greater compliance with the values the bank has adopted, particularly those of transparency and social and environmental responsibility.

The investigation concludes that the BNDES has initiated important efforts to improve its performance policies and avoid major risks and negative impacts on human rights and the environment. However, the changes made thus far are insufficient.

As such, it is recommended that the Bank: increase clarity about the existence and application of socio-environmental policies; adopt new policies regarding the analysis of socio-environmental impacts of hydroelectric plants and standards for projects in conflict zones; properly apply banking secrecy, in alignment with international human rights standards; and demonstrate openness to dialogue and an effective grievance mechanism.

If changes are not made in time and as part of the evaluation and implementation of investments, risks and losses could continue and even increase. The risks are not so distant, as was evidenced with the Hidroituango Dam in 2018. The Belo Monte Dam, without having entered into full operation, has caused significant damages that could have been avoided. These lessons can help the Bank and the people affected by the projects ensure that the investments have greater benefits.

It’s worth mentioning that, although this research in focused on large dams, the analysis, conclusions and recommendations can be applied to various sectors, thereby increasing the reach of the suggested improvements. They are important calls for the incorporation of real improvements into the ways banks operate through project support.

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by Amazon Watch / Maira Irigaray
by Amazon Watch / Maira Irigaray

By next year, the management plan for the flow of the Xingu River could be implemented.

But that plan—endorsed when Belo Monte was authorized—would leave the indigenous and riverine communities of the area without the water they need to survive, and places the fish and the forests at risk of extinction.

That’s why we sent a report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights detailing the plan’s serious socio-environmental risks. In it, we requested that the Commission urge Brazil to stop the plan’s implementation and create an alternative plan that guarantees biodiversity and protects the communities’ ways of life.

Called a Consensual Hydrogram, the plan establishes the volume of water that will pass through a specific part of the river, called the Vuelta Grande, and the part that will be diverted for energy production. It is intended to artificially reproduce the natural flow of the river in times of flood and drought.

The report sent to the Commission details scientific and social evidence that demonstrates that the water levels proposed in the plan are significantly lower than the historical river flow and do not guarantee that fish and alluvial forests can survive in the short- and medium-term.

The evidence—which includes information from both the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources and community monitoring—also shows that some aquatic species, such as chelonians, can only feed and reproduce with minimum flows of 13,000 cubic meters per second in times of flooding, and that the volume proposed for the dry season could make the river unnavigable.

In 2016, with water levels higher than those proposed, the Juruna people were already reporting the mass die-off of fish.

We sent the report to the Commission as part of our formal complaint against the Brazilian State for the human rights violations caused by the dam’s construction.

In May, together with partner organizations, we presented our final arguments in the case, evidencing damages already caused, including the forced displacement of indigenous and riverine communities, the massive death of fish, differentiated damages to men and women, and threats to the survival of the communities.

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We did it! We’re proud to say we recently submitted the final arguments in our case against Brazil before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

In them, we demonstrate the damages Belo Monte has caused to indigenous and traditional communities, and residents of Altamira, the city closest to the dam. We’re working for them—to bring the government of Brazil to justice.

“Human rights violations are a daily occurrence for those of us affected by the dam,” explained Antônia Melo, coordinator of the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre, a citizens’ collective formed in the face of the dam’s implementation. “It’s urgent that our petition before the Commission advance to sanction the government and guarantee our rights.”

We argue that the damages to local communities resulted from a severe lack of foresight and inadequate evaluation, as well as from failure to comply with the conditions for operation established by the government.

The many risks denounced prior to the dam’s construction have since become long-term damages—many of which have affected men and women, and youth and the elderly, in different ways.

Our report documents the displacement of indigenous and traditional communities forced to leave their territories without adequate alternatives, placing their cultural survival at risk.

Among the affected populations are communities dedicated to fishing, who have not yet been compensated for the loss of livelihood. The dam has caused mass die-offs of fish and, although authorities have imposed millions in fines, the report demonstrates that the underlying problem has not been resolved. Local communities now have limited use of the Xingu River as a source of food, sustenance, transportation and entertainment.

We have also noted—among other serious harms—the disappearance of traditional trades, such as brickmakers and cart drivers, and of traditional cultural practices. Women, for example, have stopped giving birth in their homes and must now go to a hospital, a reality that has drastically worsened due to the oversaturation of health and education services in Altamira caused by the recent population surge.

Our case is now in the hands of the Commission.

They will prepare their own report, concluding whether or not human rights violations occurred as a result of the Belo Monte Dam. If violations did occur, they may issue recommendations for remediation.

If Brazil fails to respond, the case may be referred to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which has the power to issue a ruling condemning Brazil.

The completion of this report brings us—and, more importantly, the communities we represent—one big step closer to achieving justice for the many wrongs committed in the name of the Belo Monte Dam, and energy development in the Amazon.

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Antonia Melo by Maira Irigaray / Amazon Watch.
Antonia Melo by Maira Irigaray / Amazon Watch.

Each time we return to the Brazilian Amazon, we listen to more stories of the tragedies caused by the Belo Monte Dam.

We meet new groups of people whose lives and livelihoods have been forever changed by the corruption-laden mega-dam towering over their backyards. 

Over the years we’ve documented the stories of indigenous people who were displaced from ancestral lands and cut off from the river that had long sustained their people; of residents in Altamira whose neighborhoods were leveled or destroyed by crime; of families forced to move from their lifelong homes into crumbling structures on the dangerous outskirts of town.

The impacts of the dam are severe and far-reaching, and they haven’t stopped with the near-completion of construction, or the dam’s ongoing operation.

At the end of January, I traveled with my colleague Marcella to Altamira and surrounding areas to meet with our partners on the ground, interview victims and document their stories.

In the months since, we’ve spent long hours compiling our report to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In it, we tell of Belo Monte’s impacts in the voices of those who know them best—its victims. Through it, we will bring their voices before the Commission in the hopes that their stories will elevate the fight, and help them to achieve justice.

We’re now just weeks away from submitting our report to the Commission, and we couldn’t be prouder of the work we’ve done in collaboration with the brave people affected by Belo Monte and our many dedicated local partners, particularly the Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre.

It’s our hope that this report, and the stories it contains, are met with compassion and understanding by the members of the Commission. Then, we can bring Brazil to justice for the human rights violations being lived every day by people throughout the Xingu River basin.

Thank you for your continued support of justice for the people of the Brazilian Amazon.

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An indigenous girl navigates the Xingu River.
An indigenous girl navigates the Xingu River.

The Brazilian government signaled this week that it would no longer be promoting new mega-dams in the Amazon basin.

Paulo Pedrosa, the Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, told Brazilian newspaper O Globo that the government didn’t want to take on more battles against indigenous and traditional communities, who have bravely been defending their culture and territory against the impacts of large dams.

Activists and experts suggest the about-face may also have to do with mounting corruption scandals involving the state-owned construction companies behind the dam boom.

Coupled with the small number of dams included in the National Energy Plan, and a notable decrease in funding, the statement suggests a policy shift could be forthcoming for the Amazon nation that has long prioritized hydropower.  This would be a surprising victory for AIDA and our allies who have long fought against the damaging energy projects, particularly in the wake of the socially and environmentally devastating Belo Monte Dam.

Brazil currently gets 70 percent of its energy from large dams, and had planned a series of dams in the Amazon basin that could have added 50 gigawatts of hydropower by 2050, according to government studies.

But the centerpiece of the dam boom, the Belo Monte Dam, shines a light on the just why that plan wouldn’t work. The world’s fourth largest dam has become a prime example of how not to produce energy in the 21st Century.

Belo Monte displaced more than thirty thousand people, caused extensive environmental devastation, and cut indigenous and traditional communities off from the river and forest that sustain them.

AIDA and our allies have been working against Belo Monte since its inception.

Representing indigenous and riverine communities, we filed a case against Brazil at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the human rights violations caused by the dam.  We have also secured protective measures for affected populations.  

Throughout, AIDA has provided extensive information about the environmental and human harms of the dam to the Commission and the government of Brazil.  Our attorneys travel to the areas most affected by Belo Monte to gather victim testimony and update the communities on the proceedings. 

Complementing our work on Belo Monte, AIDA has been a key player in a global campaign against the ongoing funding of large dams, which have no place on our rapidly changing planet.  Beyond harming human communities and rivers, large dams also emit methane – a potent climate pollutant.

Through scientific reports, public outreach campaigns, and advocacy before international institutions, AIDA has been working for more than a decade to strengthen international standards applicable to large dams, and to promote real and appropriate energy solutions for the region.

We are confident that AIDA’s work on Belo Monte, coupled with our public outreach campaign, was pivotal to driving what seems like a substantial policy shift. 

We applaud this potential advance, and will continue monitoring the situation and working with affected communities. We look forward to holding the Brazilian government to their commitment to protect the Amazon and the communities therein.

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Organization Information

Asociacion Interamericana Para La Defensa Del Ambiente (AIDA)

Location: San Francisco, CA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AIDAorg
Project Leader:
Astrid Puentes
Lima, Brazil
$18,235 raised of $20,000 goal
 
397 donations
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