Three large hydroelectric dams are proposed for the mainstem of the Tapajós River in the state of Pará – São Luiz do Tapajós, Jatobá and Chacorão. Together they would flood a total of 198,400 hectares (ha), including 11,000 ha of the Amazonia and Juruena National Parks and over 23,000 ha of the Itaituba I and II National Forests. These dams would also have significant impacts on several indigenous lands and communities, including the Mundurucu, Apiaká de Pimental, Akaybãe, Remédio, Sai Cinza, São Martinho and Boca do Igarapé Pacu.
Four hydroelectric dams are proposed for the Jamanxim River – Cachoeira do Caí, Jamanxim, Cachoeira dos Patos and Jardim do Ouro. These dams would flood a total of 103,700 ha, including 33,216 ha of the Jamanxim National Park and 25,849 ha of the Jamanxim, Itaituba I & II and Altamira National Forests.
Four large dams have already been initiated on the Teles Pires River, a major tributary of the Tapajós: Sinop, Colider, Teles Pires and São Manoel. Similar to other dams in the Amazon, such as Belo Monte, the planning and licensing of these projects has involved serious violations of human rights, especially those of indigenous peoples, and environmental legislation, provoking a series of protests. The recently-completed Teles Pires dam flooded the waterfalls of Sete Quedas, a sacred site for the Munduruku and other indigenous groups. The São Manoel dam is being constructed a few hundred meters from the border of the Kayabi Indigenous Territory, inhabited by three ethnic groups (Kayabi, Apiaká and Munduruku). The illegalities of the Teles Pires dam projects have resulted in a series of lawsuits by Federal Public Prosecutors (MPF), which the Brazilian government has managed, thus far, to paralyze through gross manipulation of the judicial system. Denunciations have also been made by indigenous peoples and their allies, including International Rivers, at the Interamercian Commission of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council. The on-going destruction of the Teles Pires river is held as an example by the Munduruku of what must not be allowed to take place downriver on the Tapajós mainstem.
The Brazilian government is claiming that the projects on the Tapajós and Jamanxim rivers will adopt a new model, known as “platform dams.” Supposedly based on the concept of offshore oil platforms, the government claims that in order to avoid the deforestation and population explosion that normally occurs when building hydroelectric dams in the Amazon, the projects will be constructed without roads, workers will be helicoptered in and out of the sites, and the construction areas will be regenerated after the dam is completed. The comparison to offshore oil platforms is surprising, given the inherent differences between the two types of projects – an oil rig uses at most about 175 workers, versus around 12,000 people for the construction of just one of the massive projects planned for the Tapajós Basin.
Little more is known about the government’s concept for platform dams, since details about exactly how the model would actually work have not been provided. NGOs, social movements and concerned academics in Brazil are skeptical, believing that platform dams are likely to be more of an exercise in greenwashing than a serious proposal. The idea that a dam could be built without a road into the area seems highly unfeasible, given the heavy machinery, equipment, concrete and other construction materials needed to build the dam. Furthermore, the idea that thousands of people could be moved into a protected area to build a dam without impacts to the surrounding forest and local communities also seems unrealistic. Even if this were the case, the dams themselves would still have serious impacts to aquatic and terrestrial ecology through flooding protected areas, blocking fish migration, and changing the river’s ecology. Such impacts – and the implications for local populations that depend on the riverine ecosystems for the their livelihoods – have not yet been subject to an open and qualified debate. In short, more detailed studies and debates are urgently needed to examine the Brazilian government’s proposal and the degree to which it meets criteria of sustainability and the public interest.
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