Social Action as Milestones in the History of Belo Monte

Publication Date: 09/15/2018 12:00

At the end of 2017, the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Plant was already among the seven largest power generators in Brazil, with 13 turbines (UGs) in commercial activity and installed capacity of 4,510 Megawatts (MW). In the first half of 2018, with 15 UGs in operation and 5,500 MW of installed power, generation reached over 14 million MWh. When all the turbines have come online, the plant will be able to generate 11,233.1 MW to serve 60 million Brazilians, which represents more than the entire population of countries like Canada and Argentina.

Belo Monte's numbers are quite impressive, but the history of such a giant in the electricity sector cannot be told only from the perspective of power generation. It is also worth mentioning the more than 5,000 social and environmental actions that have been carried out and promoted a true social transformation, contributing to the sustainable development of the Middle Xingu. Norte Energia's early projections, at project onset in 2010, were to invest R$ 3.7 billion in social and environmental actions. Adjusted estimates indicate that, when Belo Monte is in full operation, over R$ 6 billion will have been invested in cities surrounding the hydroelectric plant. But what do these figures actually represent for the region?


Fisherman Lailson Fortunato da Silva, 57, married to Lucileia Gomes Ferreira, is known as “Barbudo do Peixe” [The Bearded Fisherman]. As a boy, in his hometown, Vitória do Xingu, he took the first steps in the same profession as his father, Avelino Silva, to help provide for his family. Years later, he opened his first business, “Peixaria do Barbudo” [Barbudo's Fish Market], in downtown Altamira.

Fortunato is a living memory of the history of Altamira. He was an attentive observer of Belo Monte's deployment and attended the first meetings with the fishermen's families who would be compensated by the plant. "Our lives were radically changed. We used to live in precarious houses, built by the stream, amidst dirt and mud. The rainy seasons were like a horror movie. There was always the fear of losing our belongings that we had worked so hard to buy", he recalls. "It was a dirty place, with no proper sanitation, and we were always sick".
Lailson and Lucileia moved to the São Joaquim Urban Collective Resettlement (RUC) four years ago. "It is a nice, well-located house and, most importantly, there are no floods here. We were compensated with the new house and cash, which I used to set up my business, where I sell food and drinks”, he explains. "Nowadays, I continue to fish and process the fish at my store. It is properly packaged following sanitation standards and delivered to my customers on a motorcycle that I bought with my earnings from fishing", he says.

The five RUCs built in Altamira are a legacy of Belo Monte to the city and are currently home to about 20,000 people (3,590 families) who used to live in stilt houses. A sixth RUC, with 150 houses, is nearing completion. In addition to being connected to sewage treatment and water supply systems, these new neighborhoods are also equipped with urban facilities such as a school, a Basic Health Unit (UBS) and a sports court.

The deployment of a sanitation system in Altamira, with investments of nearly R$ 340 million, also deserves mention. Currently, 18,000 houses are being connected to the water and sewage lines. Added to those 20,000 individuals with access to proper sanitation in the RUCs, an estimated 81% of the city's population in 2017, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) – or 90,000 people – should benefit from this action by Norte Energia. 


In order to provide a new purpose for the areas that were previously occupied by irregular stilt housing, a Municipal Natural Park spanning approximately 940 hectares is under construction, along the Altamira, Ambé and Panelas streams. 


Most of the public health support actions foreseen in the Basic Environmental Project (PBA) have already been put in place by Norte Energia. One of initiatives, however, drew greater attention of the population and local administrations: the Malaria Control Action Plan (PACM). Under the premise of conducting immediate diagnoses and providing prompt care, surveillance centers were created in areas that are difficult to access in each municipality, with nurses available to perform rapid tests and treat patients. As a result, the number of cases in the five municipalities neighboring the Belo Monte HPP dropped to zero for two consecutive months (November and December 2017).


Still under the umbrella of the R$ 2.9 billion invested in social and environmental actions, the Altamira Regional Memory House is about to open its doors to the public. The venue will work as a museum of the region's occupation history and will house an audiovisual collection with some of the main records made by the Belo Monte HPP Historical, Landscape and Cultural Heritage Program. The cultural center will feature two multipurpose rooms for exhibitions, workshops and lectures, an audiovisual museum, an open-air auditorium for cultural events and a theater with a capacity for 100 people.


Fostering the local economy is also one of Norte Energia's commitments. To boost fishermen's capacity to generate income, the company built the Integrated Artisanal Fishing Center (CIPAR), under the technical supervision of the Special Secretary of Aquaculture and Fisheries. The center is located on the banks of the urban stretch of the Xingu River, in Altamira, previously occupied by stilts. The first major initiative associated with the structure was the offer of refresher and boat pilot courses. In partnership with the Port Authority of Amapá, 424 participants were trained and officially qualified. 

A Fish Market will also be set up at CIPAR, with 48 boxes, an ice factory equipped to produce 9 tons per day, a storage area for up to six tons of fish per day, a processing center, a dock and a naval carpentry workshop. In parallel, Norte Energia offers courses on cooperatives and fish processing for workers that live around the project. They include theoretical and practical classes on fish production and handling, intended for economic and social organization, as well as to stimulate entrepreneurship, in addition to adult literacy, digital inclusion, accounting and administration classes. At least 100 fishermen have already taken part in these actions. 

Last June, Norte Energia supported the formation of the first Fishermen Cooperative in Belo Monte. The voting meeting gathered up to 750 participants. Fisherman Giacomo Schaffer, 38, from Vitória do Xingu, its first chairman, believes such partnership means history in the making for the Middle Xingu working class. "A cooperative with such  scope had not yet been created in our region, and we are going to operate across several municipalities", he says.


As the plant's main raw material comes from one of the largest ecological sanctuaries in Brazil – the Xingu River –, Norte Energia invested in expanding the technical and scientific knowledge for the conservation of the Amazon aquatic biodiversity. Two laboratories were installed on the campus of the Federal University of Pará (UFPA) in Altamira, which accredited the institution to become a reference center for ichthyofauna in the lower and middle Xingu and aquaculture of ornamental fish in the Northern region. The reproduction in captivity of an ornamental fish species endemic to the Xingu region and considered vulnerable, the zebra pleco, is a consequence of such endeavor. Tabuleiro do  Embaubal, an important turtle birthplace, also deserves special attention by Norte Energia. Over the past six years, around 3.2 million baby Arrau turtles, six-tubercled Amazon River turtles and yellow-spotted Amazon River turtles have been released into the wild.

In an effort to preserve the local flora, the Company sponsors actions to produce seedlings from native species collected near the construction sites. A major way of preserving this genetic heritage comprises the planting of such trees to recover plant coverage around the reservoirs. This also supports scientific knowledge production from national and international institutions. Programs on environmental education programs and conscious use of natural resources integrate the initiatives. An example is the Xingu Regional Environmental Education Center (CREAX), whose creation was supported by the Company, along with local environmental educators. Launched in 2015, CREAX operates independently and participates in the regional agenda for discussions on environmental issues.


Actions developed with the indigenous communities follow the recommendations set forth in the Basic Environmental Plan – Indigenous Component (PBA-CI). Comprising 11 programs and 27 projects, it targets a population of nearly 4,000 individuals of nine ethnicities. They inhabit an area of around 5 million hectares spread across 12 indigenous territories. Based on these actions, Norte Energia carries out infrastructure works in the villages (Basic Health Units, Schools, Water Supply System and Home Sanitation Improvements, among others). In Altamira, the Company expanded and revitalized the Casa do Índio and is concluding the construction of a new headquarters for the National Indian Foundation (Funai). 

In addition, a radio system was structured that allows interaction between indigenous communities and ensures their communication with the Company. These are ratified by Funai and the Special Indigenous Health District (DSEI), which also use the radio channel to reach the indigenous communities. 

The Indigenous School Education Program (PEEI) and the Material and Immaterial Cultural Heritage Program have supported the drafting and publication of Literacy and Orality booklets as educational material for indigenous schools, developed by the indigenous people themselves with the supervision of the Altamira's Education Secretary and Funai. Based on the PBA-CI, the Material and Immaterial Cultural Heritage Program developed up to 2017 activities to strengthen the indigenous culture and foster the production and dissemination of their traditional knowledge.