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Belo Monte Dam Project Draws Even More Concerns

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BELO MONTE PROTEST SAO PAULO
Representatives of indigenous tribes and environmental activists carry out a demonstration, in Sao Paulo, on August 20, 2011, against the construction of Belo Monte dam at Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon River in the northeastearn Brazilian state of Para. Belo Monte is planned to be the third largest hydroelectric plant in the world. AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBA | Getty File

Last month's worldwide protests against the Brazilian government's Belo Monte Dam project may have ended, but concerns about deforestation and displacement of indigenous populations remain. Now, there may be something else to worry about.

Philip M. Fearnside, a researcher with the National Insitute for Amazon Research in Manaus, Brazil suggests that the hydroelectric dam, which will be the world's third largest, may release significant quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

The dam will flood parts of the Brazilian rainforest along the Xingu River and create a massive reservoir with rotting plant matter along its bottom. As it rots, the organic material will release the greenhouse gas, creating a "methane factory," Fearnside explained to Deutsche Welle.

According to Survival International, thousands of protestors took to the streets across the world to protest the construction of the Brazilian mega-dam last month. Protests occurred in Brazil and in front of Brazilian offices and embassies in cities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, Taiwan and at least 11 other countries.

Amazon Watch declared an international day of action on August 22 to show solidarity for the people and wildlife of the Amazon. According to a press release, thousands of people protested the dam and the Brazilian government's policies in 17 countries.

In addition to environmentalists, the dam has drawn strong criticism from indigenous groups and residents who live near the Xingu River, where the dam will be built. According to the video below from Reuters, the dam may displace up to 30,000 people.

The Belo Monte project has also drawn criticism from celebrities, including musician Sting and director James Cameron, The Washington Post reports.

Construction began in June after the Brazilian government approved the dam. When it is completed in 2015, the dam will produce 11,200 megawatts of electricity, but also flood 310 square miles of land, according to The Wall Street Journal. The cost of the project is expected to total $16 billion with 7,000 people at work by the end of 2011.

Click here to view photos of the region and people who will be affected by the dam. Photographer Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier writes:

What the dam will mean to the people who live along the river below the wall is a seasonal state of drought. The thousands of indigenous people and peasants who scratch a living out of the forest and the river will see their main source of drinking water and food dwindle. More dramatic, however, is the loss of their only means of transportation. There are no roads here and the only way to travel for the vast majority is by boat. Once the flow of river is blocked and the flow diminishes, people will become trapped in their communities. They have no other choice than to relocate.

Time suggests Brazil could learn a lesson from China and its Three Gorge Dam and should closely monitor how “relocation gets done, and to continue to monitor the safety of the environment of those people who haven't left.”

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