Brazil has given the go-ahead for the construction of the world's third largest hydroelectric dam in the Amazon rainforest.
The roads, pipelines and power grids supporting the development will make it the biggest construction project in the Amazon since the Trans-Amazonian Highway was built in the 1970s.
Brazil's environment minister Carlos Minc has said the $17 billion project, due to begin construction in late 2010, would have a generating capacity of 11,000 megawatts - huge, but still smaller than the world's largest hydroelectric project, the 18,000 megawatt Three Gorges Dam in China.
Previous attempts to start the project in the late 1980s failed after public opposition. A number of NGOs and indigenous populations remain opposed to the project, which will divert the flow of the Xingu River, devastate an extensive area of the Amazon rainforest and displace local communities.
'No one knows the true cost of Belo Monte,' said Aviva Imhof, International Rivers Campaigns Director.
'The project would displace tens of thousands of people, and destroy the livelihood of thousands more. Even as Brazil argues that the international community should support rainforest protection, its government insists on promoting mega-infrastructure projects in Amazonia that are socially and environmentally indefensible.'
NGO Amazon Watch said the project and other dams being planned for the region threatened the survival of indigenous peoples.
One of those indigenous groups, the Kayapo, called on the World Bank to stop funding dam projects in the Amazon region.
'If you lend money to the government of Brazil to pave roads and build other projects [such as] the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, you will be contributing to the destruction of our forests, and conflicts with - possibly even deaths - of our people,' wrote Megaron, the new Kayapó chief in a letter to the president of the World Bank.
'We want to make sure that Belo Monte does not destroy the ecosystems and the biodiversity that we have taken care of for millennia. We are opposed to dams on the Xingu, and will fight to protect our river,' he said.
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