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Judge Halts Construction on Brazil's Belo Monte Dam

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
Wed, August 15, 2012
Brazilians bathe in the river near the area where the Belo Monte dam complex has been under construction.
(CNN) -- A Brazilian court has ordered an immediate halt to construction of a controversial hydroelectric dam project in the Amazon.

It's the latest twist in a long-brewing battle between the Brazilian government and local indigenous communities over the Belo Monte dam.

The government has backed the construction of what would be the world's third-largest hydroelectric dam, while activists argue that it would displace thousands of local residents and damage the environment.

In the most recent ruling, announced by Regional Federal Judge Souza Prudente to reporters, construction is ordered suspended until indigenous communities get a say on the matter before congress, court spokesman Jair Cardoso said.

Injunctions blocking construction have been issued in the past, but the government has successfully overturned them.

Congress approved the Belo Monte dam in 2005 and construction started in 2010 when then-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva signed a $17 billion contract with Norte Energia, the consortium chosen to build the dam.

But lawmakers erred in not seeking input from the indigenous communities beforehand, the judge ruled.

"The legislation requires consultation (by indigenous communities) prior to a decision by congress (on construction of the dam), and what we have is an attempt after the fact," Prudente told the state-run Agencia Brasil news agency. "Congress made a mockery and acted as if it were in a dictatorship, putting the cart before the horse."

Norte Energia had not received notification of the ruling as of Wednesday, and would not comment for the time being, spokeswoman Sarah Barros said.

The company will be fined $250,000 daily if it does not comply.

If and when it is completed, Belo Monte will be the third-largest dam in the world, after the Three Gorges dam in China and the Itaipu dam on the Brazil/Paraguay border.

The dam, being built on the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, will produce 11,000 megawatts and provide electricity for 23 million homes.

According to Norte Energia, after environmental considerations the area to be flooded by the dam was reduced to 516 sq. km (200 sq. miles). Estimates of the number of people who will be displaced by the construction of the dam range from 19,000 to 40,000.

The judge also found fault with a previous regional federal court decision that assumed that the country's supreme court had upheld the constitutionality of the legislation behind the dam construction, according to Agencia Brasil. The decision in question had been the opinion of a single judge. For matters of constitutionality, two-thirds of the high court judges would have to agree.


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Dam Water Threatens Sudan's Historical Artifacts

Posted by TANN, 8:00 PM. Source: Hurriyet Daily News [July 12, 2012]

The Sudanese Antiquities Ministry is appealing to the international archaeological community to help salvage Sudan's rich archaeological heritage, which is at risk due to a series of dams, according to British-based The Art Newspaper.


The Art Newspaper reported, Sudanese Antiquities Ministry appeals to the international archaeological community to help salvage Sudan's rich archaeological heritage [Credit: Hurriyet]

"The proposed dams will flood various regions along the Nile within three to six years. International experts met representatives from the ministry and the Dams Implementation Unit at the British Museum in London in May to share information and lay the foundation for a large-scale rescue campaign reminiscent of the one mounted more than a decade ago when the Merowe Dam project [in northern Sudan] was under way," the newspaper reported.

One of the meeting's key outcomes was learning how much time archaeologists have to work before the flooding begins, said the Art Newspaper, adding that it appears scholars have around three years until flood waters from the Upper Atbara dam are released in the country's north, and around six years in the case of the Kajbar and Shereiq dams, also in the north.

"These proposed dams will severely damage our cultural heritage," said Abdelrahman Ali, the director-general of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM) who opened the meeting with a plea for assistance in salvaging his country's heritage.

Muawia Mohammed Salih from the Dams Implementation Unit said the dams were part of the government's plans to "exploit its vast and diverse resources to achieve human welfare by sustainable development" and that it was necessary to "safeguard Sudan's remaining water share allotted in the 1959 Nile Water Agreement."

The vast number of archaeological sites within Sudan is a testament to the country's long and rich history. A survey of the Upper Atbara area by El-Hassan Ahmed Mohammed from the NCAM has recorded at least 40 sites, including prehistoric settlements and cemeteries, 30 of which are in the flood zone.

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