Four Amazonian tribes have joined forces to oppose the construction of hydroelectric dams in their territory as the Brazilian government ramps up efforts to exploit the power of rivers in the world’s biggest forest.
The Munduruku, Apiaká, Kayabi and Rikbaktsa released a joint statement on Thursday demanding the halt of construction on a cascade of four dams on the Teles Pires – a tributary of the Tapajós.
They say the work at the main area of concern – the São Manoel dam – threatens water quality and fish stocks. The site has already reportedly expanded almost to the edge of a nearby village, although the local communities say they have not been consulted as they obliged to be under national laws and international standards.
“The government builds dams without completing environmental studies, without seeking to understand the consequences of the destruction of nature in our lives. It authorizes the operation of dams without giving a response to indigenous people and leaving their lives without fish, without water, without hunting as they try to hide their negative impacts on our lives, our rivers and our territories,” the statement read.
Members of the indigenous coalition told the Guardian they were prepared to escalate their protest if their requests are ignored.
“If the demands aren’t met, I’ll have to occupy the construction site. They can’t do what they are doing without listening to us,” said Valdenir Munduruku, one of the leaders of the alliance.
The four tribes often clashed violently with one another until the 19th century, when they first formed an alliance against European colonialists who were confiscating their lands and stealing their people to use as slaves.
Juliana de Paula Batista, a lawyer and indigenous activist, said the groups had reaffirmed their unity in recent years against the growing threat posed by hydropower.
“Right now, it is a really serious situation. The tribes feel the urgency because the builders are just 500 metres from the village with no consultation or alternatives with the tribe. Elsewhere, they are building on sacred sites,” she said.
The Teles Pires dams are likely to be just the start of increased development of the region’s hydro-potential. Even bigger projects go up for auction on the lower Tapajós this year, including a dam at São Luiz that would directly flood territory claimed by the Munduruku.
Brazil is rushing to provide low-carbon energy for its population. The government says this is necessary to support development of the country and to meet goals for greenhouse emission cuts.
More than 250 dams are planned in the Amazon – the world’s most important centre for biodiversity – according to the WWF, which has urged greater environmental care and consultation with local communities ahead of building such projects.
Numerous legal appeals have been launched against the dams, which disrupt water systems far beyond the immediate areas affected by reservoir flooding. Several lower courts have found in favour of the tribes and their supporters, but the hold-ups tend to prove temporary.
“They have ridden roughshod over the law. In every case the government has intervened using the excuse of a ‘threat to national security’ – an artifice going back to military dictatorship,” said Brent Millikan of International Rivers, who says the process on environmental impact assessment is also pushed through with undue haste and inadequate study. “Problems are being swept under carpet because of the rush to build these things as fast as possible. It is the indigenous people who are affected.”
Categories: Human interest