May 20, 2012

No to mega dam projects!

pakitzapango_may_2012_lr.jpgTribes fear for their land, forest and rivers in the face of mega dam projects

This week the Pakitzapango hydroelectric dam project, proposed by the Brazilian companies Electrobras and Odebrecht, reared its head again in the form of two major news articles: one in the New York Times and another in the respected Lima daily, El Comercio.  Both articles argued against the mega dams.

A subject covered in earlier Cool Earth newsfeeds, for the Asháninka of the Rio Ene, this proposal for a 2,200MW hydroelectric scheme in their valley is the most recent in a series of nightmare scenarios that they have faced in the last forty years or so.


The Pakitzapango project is part of a proposal for as many as five dams that under a 2010 energy agreement would generate more than 6,500 megawatts.  Most of this power would be sold across the frontier to neighboring Brazil. The New York Times article concluded that: “so far, Mr. Humala has not staked out a clear position on the proposed dams, though that is likely to change when President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil visits Peru, a visit expected soon.”

The project is presently stalled in the Peruvian Congress, but President Ollanta Humala of Peru has not taken a clear line on the mega dam proposals yet.  It is clear, however, that this is an issue which could prove critical to the success of his term in office.  Considering his over-arching policy of inclusivity, how could he face the nation if he were to approve a project that would displace round 10,000 Asháninka from their main village sites and very best growing land?  The social, economic and political impact of this would be totally unjustifiable.


On an environmental and technical level, too, the project is severely flawed according to many respected commentators.  The Pakitzapango project plans to put a 165m dam in the sacred canyon of the Asháninkas and on the official headwater of the world’s largest river which would flood over 730 square kilometers (over 180,000 acres) of rainforest. 

The impacts on the existing forest, on riverine fish stocks, the vegetative decomposition following flooding out the valley, the green-house gases produced by this, the increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns in this region and a long list of other relevant factors all mitigate against this project being a sensible proposal.  There is plenty of scope for hundreds of micro-hydro projects in the steep and highly mountainous areas that border the Rio Ene. 

Small-scale initiatives based on community ownership of hydro plant and river courses could provide the new and additional electricity for the Peruvian grid and even for sale to Brazil if required.  Most importantly, though, the Asháninka would have access to electricity.  Furthermore, their electricity could be generated by assets belonging to – as well as owned and operated by – the communities themselves.

Sources: New York Times and El Comercio (Lima)


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