In the News: Nature vs. Power in the Amazon

There has been a great amount of controversy over the construction of a new hydroelectric dams in South America. The dams would provide a lot of new jobs, but it would also displace many families and animals. There has been a great amount of dam construction in the South American countries recently. According to National Geographic, “About 150 other dams already exist in the Amazon basin, with other controversial projects underway and hundreds more planned.” The dams are providing a great amount of energy to the surrounding areas supporting the economic growth in the region. Hydroelectricity is also the cheapest form of energy for these countries. Unfortunately, every time there is a dam built there is a greater cost to the environment.

Indigenous people that live along the river are fighting back against the construction. They have suspended the construction temporarily but there is no guarantee the Peruvian and Brazilian governments won’t continue with the construction of the dams. One of the indigenous leaders commented,”The project would bring more hardship to families—including her own—already uprooted by political violence.” Over 60 villages got together recently to issue a statement to the government arguing that  they must take into consideration their argument as well, when planning for these dams. One of the chiefs stated,”The government must recognize our rights, not just those of others.” The issue if these dams are constructed then these villages will be flooded. All of these families will have to relocate. There has been no consideration until now, of the indigenous people and their homes.



A poster in support of dam affected peoples.


The construction of these dams will also have a great biological impact. The Amazon is known for its one of a kind biodiversity. Currently, scientists are looking at what effect the dam would have on the present nature of the biodiversity. They believe that the construction would cause more harm to the Amazon basin. By building a dam, the country will be blocking fish spawning runs, reducing the flow of vital nutrients, and clearing forests. A biodiversity expert from George Mason University is also concerned,”I think these countries should take a fresh look at energy generation from the Amazon. Most of the decisions being made are essentially heedless or unaware of that bigger picture.” It is interesting to note that the United States is actually dismantling dams to return rivers to their natural courses. There are however many developing countries in Africa and Asia that are expanding their construction of dams.


This is because hydropower is one of the cheapest and largest forms of energy. For countries that are growing at great rates economically, hydropower is a great way to increase the amount of energy being generated. In fact about sixteen percent of the world’s energy is hydropower. In Latin America seventy percent of the energy is hydropower because of the great size of the Amazon basin. Usually dams have a small footprint if they’re in the mountains, but in the Amazon basin the dams need to be much larger so the water level can be raised to an acceptable level. Since the dams are so much bigger, there is much more displacement involved. More trees are cut, more people need to move, more animals lose their natural habitat.

Dams don’t just affect the primary area they’re in, but also surrounding areas because a river and its flow are the source of nutrition for many forms of life. An ecologist from the University of Washington said “If you cut off that sediment flow, the area of floodplains downstream will have highly reduced amounts of sediment and reduced nutrients.” Upstream, the dams could dry out wetlands, affecting the reproduction routine for fish that travel miles to congregate at a certain spawning habitat. If the reproduction cycle of these fish is compromised then we could see these fish go into extinction. There have been attempts at building channels around the dams for the fish, but many of these fish may be unable to actually find the channels.

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Not only is the construction of the dams affecting the rivers, but also the surrounding forests. If dams are constructed then biologist WIlliam Laurence argues, “Construction roads for dam projects attract land speculators, farmers, ranchers, drug crop growers, and wildcat gold miners.” This means there will be even more deforestation. Deforestation makes it easier for wildfires to occur. This would dry out the understory of the forest reducing the amount of rainfall. If there is less rain then the hydroelectric plants would be a waste of money. There are already many dams that are not performing at capacity.

Countries like those in Latin America, need to find alternative methods of generating energy that will actually be sustainable and avoid harming people and the environment.


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