Today is the International Day of Action for Rivers: a time to remember and honour the communities who have been impacted by the construction of dams and the movements trying to prevent disastrous new dam projects.
For Brazil, the profound impacts dams and hydropower projects can have on communities and the environment couldn’t be clearer. Here are just three recent stories of communities impacted by dams — and how they are fighting back.
A year of mud: Samarco’s dam catastrophe
In 2015, above the town of Mariana, two dams holding mining waste collapsed — dumping 40 billion liters of contaminated mud into the nearby River Doce. The wall of waste released from the dams killed 21 people and wiped out the fauna and flora along 700 km of the river.
Now, more than a year later, the community of Mariana is still demanding justice. Meanwhile, the mining company Samarco — a joint venture between mining giants BHP Billiton and Vale — continues to delay the repair of those affected and the environment. The company will even resume operations in the second half of the year.
The impacts of Belo Monte
In Altamira, Brazil, thousands of people were forced to leave their homes due to the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam.* Indigenous People and other communities living along the river continue to suffer from the changes the dam caused the Xingu River. Already, more than 16 million tons of fish died and turtle nesting sites have been impacted.
The Belo Monte dam has led to serious violations of human rights and environmental destruction. The municipality on the banks of the Xingu is experiencing an explosion of violence since the construction began, ranking among the ten cities with the highest homicide rates in the country.
Fighting for the Tapajós River
Along the Tapajós River in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, the Munduruku Indigenous People continue to fight to prevent the construction of dams that could destroy their way of life. Over 40 dams are planned or under construction in the Tapajós River basin alone, putting the whole region and its biodiversity at risk.
To challenge these dams, the Munduruku are fighting for official recognition (known as demarcation) of their traditional lands threatened by the plans of the Tapajós hydroelectric complex. Stand with the Munduruku in their fight to protect their way of life.
Shine a light on this destruction
While people across Brazil are struggling to survive and protect the country’s rivers and forests, many politicians in Brazil’s National Congress are rushing to protect the interests of companies that profit from the construction of destructive dams instead. In fact, there are two laws being proposed right now in Brazil that would lead to further irresponsible exploitation of Brazil’s natural wealth and widen social inequalities.
Stories of exploitation, violations of human rights and environmental destruction aren’t limited to Brazil. The fight against destructive dams is a global one. This International Day of Action for Rivers, share these stories and stand with the communities impacted.
Luana Lila is a communication officer at Greenpeace Brazil.
*Want more information on the Belo Monte dam? Watch the documentary "Belo Monte: After the Flood" — made available for free download on the film's website and on its Facebook page in celebration of the International Day of Action for Rivers.