Exploitation of the Amazon region has risen to unprecedented levels under the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, bringing the region's ecosystem close to a point where irreversible damage will have been done to the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Reversing a decision by the previous administration, Bolsonaro's government has put large scale dam projects in the Amazon basin back on the table. The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, the fourth largest in the world, completed in 2019, is a reminder of the huge costs - financial, social and environmental - of ill-conceived Amazon mega-projects.

The dam project on the Xingu River, first conceived under Brazil's military dictatorship in the mid 1970s and dogged by controversy and legal wrangling over the decades since, caused a massive wave of migration into the region, especially to Altamira, the regional capital. At the peak of the construction process 2014 and 2015, some 25,000 workers relocated to four sites around the dam site, stretching local infrastructure to breaking point. Altamira grew from 100,000 to 140,000 in the space of two years. While some of the increase was down to some 4,100 families who had been moved to the city to make way for the new dam lake, most of the new residents were single men, leading to a sharp rise in violence and prostitution and growing strains on housing, sanitation and other municipal services.

As with dam projects the world over, the Belo Monte Dam has had drastic effects on the surrounding ecology with lower water volumes downriver and flooding plains behind the dam. Subsistence fishing communities living along the riverbanks have seen significantly lower water levels that are making navigation for small boats which are the lifeline for many remote communities increasingly difficult.

In addition to the environmental impact of the dam many critics claim that it is not even needed to fulfil the country’s energy needs. It is alleged that Belo Monte was only built as a payback to Brazil's construction industry for the huge campaign donations to the then ruling Worker's Party as subsequently revealed in the Lava Jato (car wash) corruption scandal that unearthed widespread graft and kickbacks, ultimately leading to the imprisonment of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the country's president from 2003 to 2010.

Lalo de Almeida documented the impact of the dam’s construction on the Xingu river basin - the explosive growth of the city of Altamira and the harm done to the environment and the indigenous and traditional communities - and followed the process from the public hearings in 2009 to the project’s completion a decade later.
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