Avatar in Amazonia

Avatar is not on the planet “Pandora”, but in Amazonia: there are astounding similarities between the story of filmmaker James Cameron and the reality at the Xingu River in Brazil.

Natives protesting against Andritz. Photo by Renata Pinheiro

The Xingu River is a big tributary of the Amazon. During rainy season, the river’s flow is greater than that of the Rhine and the Mississippi combined. Forests with jungle giants are lining its course – a world of water, rocks, and forest. The Xingu’s unique feature is the Volta Grande – a giant river loop, 100 kilometres in length. In hundreds – if not thousands – of small waterfalls the water flows into the Amazon River. A huge amount of fish lives in the Volta Grande. It is believed that some 100 fish species are endemic to the river loop, that is, they live only here and nowhere else on Earth. In comparison, only 70 fish species live in the 2,800 kilometre long course of the Danube.

However, biodiversity in the Volta Grande could soon be a thing of the past, because in spite of domestic and international protests and lawsuits, the Brazilian government sticks to the construction of the Belo Monte Dam. Once built, it is going to be the third largest hydropower plant in the world (only topped by the Itaipu Dam in Brazil and the Three Gorges Dam in China). European corporations such as Austrian Andritz AG, French Alstom, German Siemens AG and Mercedes Benz are complicit by providing over 400 construction vehicles.

Below the Volta Grande – and thus also below the projected dam – the Xingu expands breadth-wise: up to 16 kilometres wide, the Xingu’s breadth is here longer than some mountain creek’s length. This is where the river forms huge sand islands each year. These islands provide the ideal nesting site for many bird species (tern species, skimmers, various European Nightjar species, …) as well as for Amazonian turtles. Some 30,000 turtles come to the Xingu’s sand islands each year to lay their eggs. It is one of the biggest turtle nesting sites in the world – a miracle of nature.

However, this nesting site might soon cease to exist because the dam will not only hold back the water, but also the sand necessary to replenish the islands. The sand islands will disappear – and with them, the birds and turtles.

Opposition is still strong. The most famous artists of the country are advocating against the project.

James Cameron and his Avatar actors/actresses have long sided with the opposition movement – just like Bill Clinton, Sting, and many more.

The opposition is not only concerned with the future of the Xingu and its inhabitants. It is about much more: Belo Monte merely opens the door for over 60 mega-dams and hundreds of medium-sized ones. If all these dams are actually constructed, it would mean the end for Amazonia.

Kayapo at the Xingu. Photo by Thomas Schweiger

Belo Monte and Ilisu. Amazona and Mesopotamia. Our planet’s green lung and the cradle of our civilisation. Both are threatened by hydropower – a so-called ‘green form of energy’.

In collaboration with other environmental and social organisations, RiverWatch continues to fight against the construction of the dam. But we want more: we want Belo Monte and Ilisu to become showcases for the devastating consequences of hydropower. It is time to kick hydropower off its ‘green throne’. Hydropower is by no means sustainable; rather it is one of the world’s worst catalysts for environmental destruction.

→ Factsheet Dreikönigsaktion


NEWSBrazil – Belo Monte

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