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Families threatened by Amazon dam license

The government has granted an environmental licence for Brazil's state dam company, Electronorte’s plan to build the world’s third largest dam.The Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, will destroy a huge area of the rainforest and threaten the survival of people who live there. Thousands of families will be relocated. But the government says whoever takes on the project will have to pay $800m (£500m) to protect the environment. The whole project is expected to cost $3bn (£1.9bn) according to environmental group, Amazon Watch. Electronorte expects to contribute 30% of project costs while private investors will provide the remaining 70%. The government’s approval this week is a key step before investors can put in bids.

The Belo Monte dam in the state of Pará replaces an old proposal for hydroelectric construction on the Xingu, abandoned more than 10 years ago in the face of massive international and national protest. Indigenous tribes say the Belo Monte dam poses a threat to their way of life. In spite of the millions ring fenced to protect the environment, critics say that diverting the flow of the Xingu river will still devastate a large area of the rainforest and damage fish stocks. The lives of up to 40,000 people could be affected, they say, because 500 sq km of land would be flooded.

British rock star Sting has used his latest visit to Brazil in November to urge the government to listen to indigenous people’s concerns over the new dam. Sting said Brazil was in the front line of the fight against climate change and it was even more important now to listen to the voices of those who live there than it had been years ago.

Sting told the BBC that although the decision was for Brazilians alone, the debate had an impact far beyond South America's largest country. "This is the heart of the Amazon and what happens here affects the whole world," he said. "This was my intuition but now the science is backing that up, I mean substantial science is saying this is true. We need to save this forest. "It is the biggest contribution to greenhouse gases - deforestation. Way beyond industrial pollution, way beyond the burning of fossil fuel for transport, or heating." Now with its government license, the dam is much closer to becoming a reality.

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children