PR: Controversial Belo Monte Dam Featured in New Film

Monday, April 22, 2013

Large-scale dams in the Amazon and Mesopotamia focus of Damocracy


Brasilia, Brazil – A documentary launched today, Damocracy, focuses on the cultural and natural heritage the world stands to lose as the foundations of two controversial large-scale dams are being laid despite widespread opposition and resistance – the Belo Monte Dam in the Brazilian Amazon and the Ilisu Dam in southeast Turkey.

Award-winning filmmaker Todd Southgate travels from the vast Amazon rainforest in Brazil to the mountains and plains of upper Mesopotamia and Hasankeyf, southeast Turkey, and visits communities threatened by the two major dam projects.

The Xingu River at sunset
The Xingu River at sunset
Photo by Aviva Imhof/International Rivers

By focusing on impacts such as a permanent drought on the Xingu River’s “Big Bend” and the sinking of a city in Turkey that dates back to the Bronze Age, Damocracy exposes the myth of large-scale dams as clean energy. It reveals the undemocratic processes forcing these dams onto an unconsenting public by governments steamrolling national laws and international regulations.

The documentary takes the name of the DAMocracy movement formed following the Rio+20 Earth Summit last year when governments failed to recognize the permanent destruction of cultural and natural heritage being caused by large-scale dams.

“Around the world, especially in developing nations, governments continue to offer the false hope that hydroelectric power will address energy needs while ignoring the social and environmental cost of large-scale dams,” said Christian Poirier of Amazon Watch. “We are seeing this kind of impact with the construction of the Belo Monte Dam in the Brazilian Amazon and Damocracy makes the case for similarly devastating effects across the world in Turkey.”

The Amazon Basin, site of the Belo Monte Dam, is home to 60% of the planet’s remaining tropical rainforests. Belo Monte’s two reservoirs and canals would flood a total area of 668 sq km, of which 400 sq km are standing forest. Scientists fear that hundreds of dams planned for the Amazon Basin may cause the extinction of a thousand fish species, which amounts to one third of all fish species in the Amazon. The Belo Monte Dam would displace over 40,000 people including indigenous communities.

Damocracy also shows that while the dam industry is ramping up their rhetoric about using dams to combat climate change, big dams actually contribute to the causes of climate change. Dr. Philip Fearnside of the National Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA) says forests flooded by Belo Monte’s reservoirs would generate enormous quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).

A protest to save the town of Hasankeyf from the Ilisu Dam
A protest to save the town of Hasankeyf from the Ilisu Dam
Photo courtesy of Doga Dernegi

Work on the Ilisu Dam in Turkey continues in defiance of court rulings halting the dam (1) and the withdrawal of funding from European Credit Agencies in 2009 when the Turkish government failed to meet almost all the criteria to protect the environment, cultural heritage and local communities. Over 30,000 people would be displaced by the project. The dam would inundate an area that meets nine out of 10 UNESCO World Heritage Site criteria (2). The Ilisu Dam would affect five key biodiversity areas in southeast Turkey, and would impact areas as far away as the marshes of Basra in Iraq.

“The environmental, social and cultural costs of big dams should not be paid by the people and animals of the world as governments – such as those of Brazil and Turkey – protect political and corporate interests” said Brent Millikan, Amazon Program Director at International Rivers. “Damocracy tells a story of shared resistance to top-down, destructive development; we must all continue to work together to make sure that the film doesn’t become a record of loss the world failed to prevent.”


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Damocracy was produced by Doga Dernegi (BirdLife Turkey), in collaboration with Amazon Watch, International Rivers, RiverWatch, Gota D’água (Drop of Water) Movement, Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) and Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre (MXVPS).

(1) The Turkish State Council ruled on January 7, 2013 in favour of the legal case filed by the Chamber of Architects and Engineers (TMMOB) against the construction of the Ilisu Dam project, ordering an immediate halt to construction. On April 5, the environment ministry again amended EIA regulations to bypass the latest court ruling and continue with the construction of the dam. This move is being challenged by civil society organizations in Turkey with new court cases challenging this decision being filed.

(2) The area of Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley meets nine out of 10 criteria for World Heritage Status according to a report published by Istanbul University Professor Zeynep Ahunbay, who is also the former President of ICOMOS Turkey (the International Council on Monuments and Sites that evaluates nominations for World Heritage Status). The Turkish government refuses to nominate the site for protection.

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