Amazon Dams Affecting Fishing Families

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Altamira, a city of 140,000 people, is the biggest of the 11 municipalities in the northern state of Pará affected by the Belo Monte Dam that got underway in 2011

Small-scale fisherpersons were among the first forgotten victims of mega construction projects like the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingú River in the Brazilian Amazon.

“I’m a fisherman without a river, who dreams of traveling, who dreams of riding on a boat of hope. Three years ago it looked like my life was over; but I still dream of a new river,” said Elio Alves da Silva, referring to the disappearance of his village, the Comunidade Santo Antônio, the first to be removed to make way for the construction of the dam.

Now, he lives on an isolated farm 75 km from his old village, and works in the construction industry “to keep hunger at bay.” He misses the river and its beaches, community life, the local church that was demolished, and playing football on the Santo Antônio pitch, which is now a parking lot for the staff on the Belo Monte construction site.

His account of the eviction of 245 families from his rural village was heard by representatives of the office of the public prosecutor, the National Human Rights Council, the government, and different national universities, who met in June in Altamira to inspect Belo Monte’s impacts on communities along the Xingú River.

Altamira, a city of 140,000 people, is the biggest of the 11 municipalities in the northern state of Pará affected by the mega-project that got underway in 2011.

“Riverbank communities, although they are an expression of a traditional way of life…were invisible in the Belo Monte tendering process and today are finding no solutions in that process that address their particular needs,” says the report containing conclusions from one of the 55 meetings held to assess impacts.

The company building the dam, Norte Energía, offered indemnification and individual or collective resettlement to families living on riverbanks or islands on stretches of the Xingú River affected by the dam, who depended on fishing for their livelihood.

But in no case has an attempt been made to replicate their previous living conditions, as required by Brazil’s environmental regulations. The company only offered to resettle them far from the river. And the indemnification, in cash or credit, was insufficient to enable them to afford more expensive land along the river.

Norte Energía has failed to recognise that many local fishing families actually have two homes: one on the river, where they live for days at a stretch while fishing, and another in an urban area, where they stay when they sell their catch, and where they have access to public services such as health care.

The report said that when the families are forced to choose indemnification for their rural or their urban home, they have to renounce one part of their life, and they receive reduced compensation as a result. They are only given compensation for their other home as a “support point”, for the building and simple, low-cost equipment.

Of the hundreds of fishing community families who were evicted, most have chosen cash – even though the indemnification was insufficient to ensure their way of life – because there was no satisfactory resettlement option, according to the inspection carried out at the behest of the public prosecutor’s office.

But many are still fighting for more. One of them is Socorro Arara, of the Arara indigenous people. She is from the island of Padeiro, which will be flooded when the main Belo Monte reservoir is filled.

“Norte Energía offered us 28,000 reais (9,000 dollars), but we didn’t accept it – that’s too little for our seven families” – who include her parents, three children, two sisters and their husbands – she told IPS.

Source: IPS News

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