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Opening This Year, Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam Will Be Fourt...

Opening This Year, Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam Will Be Fourth Largest in the World

The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River, in the state of Pará, Brazil, is now 77% complete. In November 2015, it will begin minimal operations, at just 3% of its total capacity. The unit’s major machines will begin operation in March 2016. In the meantime, Altamira and other municipalities of Pará are already

Engineer at the construction site of Belo Monte, Brazil

The Belo Monte hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River, in the state of Pará, Brazil, is now 77% complete. In November 2015, it will begin minimal operations, at just 3% of its total capacity. The unit’s major machines will begin operation in March 2016. In the meantime, Altamira and other municipalities of Pará are already experiencing the positive effects brought by the enormous endeavor.

The municipalities of the region will receive in total R$ 3.7 billion (1.17 billion USD) of investments for social and environmental areas. This is reciprocation for housing the fourth largest hydroelectric dam in the world, which has the ability to generate 11 megawatts of energy and serve 60 million people in Brazil. “It’s a complex project, and it was done, for example, to not flood even a millimeter of the surrounding area,” said the President of Norte Energia, Duílio Diniz de Figueiredo.

When it won the competition for the Belo Monte Plant, Norte Energia committed to the ambitious compensation plan to minimize potential social and environmental impacts. The example to be avoided is the Trans-Amazon Highway, created in 1973, which didn’t benefit the region.” For 103 years, the City of Altamira had an open untreated sewage system, and only ten percent of the population had water,” stated the business executive.

The sanitation project in Altamira provides R$ 300 million (95 million USD) in investments for its 106 thousand inhabitants, replicating technology from Paris. It will gain eight reservoirs of drinking water. The municipalities of the region will receive R$ 485 million (154 million USD) for the water and sewage systems. According to the President of Norte Energia, Altamira still dumps their trash in the center of the city. A modern landfill will be constructed in its place.

President Rousseff greets Belo Monte, Brazil engineers

Intensive Care Unit Beds

In addition to basic sanitation, the Altamira region is obtaining a more robust network of health facilities. The project includes four new hospitals and renovations of three others -- totaling 104 beds in intensive care. Thirty “Basic Health Units” were constructed in the region. “The results of this effort are already apparent. Between 2011 and 2015, cases of malaria have fallen by 96%,” Duílio Diniz informed. The city also gained a building for the future School of Medicine. In the area of education, 270 classrooms were constructed or renovated, benefiting 22 thousand students. Another 108 classrooms will be expanded. To improve security, the region is receiving R$ 100 million (32 million USD) for life jackets, the purchase of a helicopter, and the reform of the public jail.

Indigenous People

Some worry that the Belo Monte Plant will negatively affect the indigenous people of the Xingu River. The region has 34 parent tribes that occupy a 500 kilometer radius around Altamira. According to the President of Norte Energia, the social and environmental compensation project provides an investment of R$ 212 million (67 million USD) in benefits to the tribes. There have been 711 houses construction and the purchase of 370 boats, in addition to the installation of health centers and schools.

The social and environmental compensation show the responsibility of those who took a project in one of the most important regions in the world (the Amazon) and put it into action. And the numbers for Belo Monte are enormous. The workers count for 25 thousand people, involved directly or indirectly. One of the relevant points is that 60% of these workers are from Pará, stimulating the local economy.

What has been the impact of large scale construction projects where you live? How do the economic benefits stand up to the social and environmental impacts? Do you think compensation is a good way to deal with this? Share your city's stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Anna Petrone is a transportation engineering masters student at the University of Maryland, with a Bachelor in Math and Economics. Her interests lie in transportation projects located in developing countries, particularly in South America. She took a...

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