“After Belo Monte (hydroelectric plant), we still have no access to health and education here, at the Xingu River Big Bend, we don’t even have potable water”.
Germano Kuruaya, the Awá village chief

Cacalos Garrastazu / Eder Content


Highways, railroads, hydroelectric power plants, and ports are generally synonymous with progress and development. But it is also correct to state that large infrastructure projects are not neutral in terms of environmental impact. Therefore, large development projects are required to go through an environmental licensing process.

Historically, environmental impact studies in Brazil are conducted by the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), and they have already interrupted or shelved countless construction projects. This is the case of the São Luiz do Tapajós Hydroelectric Power Plant, whose environmental license application was shelved by Ibama in 2016.

In the case of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Power Plant, several scientists warned, from the beginning of the environmental impact studies, about the plant’s many permanent negative effects. The award of the license went to Court and faced a long process of conditions that are still being discussed.

In November 2015, Ibama issued Belo Monte’s Operating License even though it found that there were pending liabilities in the resettlement of affected populations, implementation of actions in indigenous territories, basic sanitation, among others.

“A lot has changed, for the worse, after the hydroelectric plant. We are the ones who can say that because we live here, in the Xingu River Big Bend”.

Anita Juruna, 19 years old

Cacalos Garrastazu / Eder Content

For those who live near the Xingu River, the impact is felt to these days. The lake formed by the hydroelectric power plant to produce energy altered forever the cycle of floods and ebb tides of the river, affecting the way of life of the populations that live in the Xingu Big Bend area. 

In the dry season, traveling by river becomes impossible, as does fishing, one of the main activities of subsistence of indigenous people and river dwellers in the Amazon. For the Yudjá ethnicity, these changes impact their canoe culture: “Without the river we are nothing, because we are a canoe people who live off the river”, says 19-year-old Anita Juruna. 

Episode in pictures

Cacalos Garrastazu

It is not just a highway

BR-319 extends from Manaus to Porto Velho, in the north of Brazil, cutting the middle of the forest

Officially, the BR-319 highway linking Manaus to Porto Velho already exists. It was inaugurated in 1976 and it was completely paved. Without maintenance, it becomes impossible to pass through it in the rainy season in the central part of its almost 900 kilometers of extension.

It was even closed in 1988 due to traffic problems. Today, half of the highway is dirt and surrounded by one of the most virgin and preserved stretches of the Amazon Forest, mostly in the State of Amazonas.

Although it serves as a connection between two capital cities in the north region of Brazil, BR-319 is far from being just another highway. The highway cuts through the forest, and the subsequent effects of opening a road in the middle of the Amazon jungle are already widely known.

The scientist Philip Fearnside is a critic of the repaving of BR-319 and has published several studies warning about the negative effects of the construction project. After the asphalt, he says, comes land grabbing, deforestation, fires, and all damages to the forest.

Conservacion Amazonica’s annual survey estimated the loss of primary forest in the nine Amazon countries by 2021 at nearly 2 million hectares. The most serious note is that 70% of registered loss occurred in Brazil, located in areas close to highways. See the map:

Hotspots of deforestation are located in the surroundings of highways

Brazilian highways BR-230 (Trans-Amazonian), BR-163, BR-364, and the BR-319 itself concentrate the most deforested areas in the Brazilian Amazon.