The Carajas mine in the Brazilian Amazon. NASA image created by Jesse Allen, using EO-1 ALI data provided courtesy of the NASA EO-1 Team. Caption by Holli Riebeek. Wikimedia Commons.
Industrializing Amazon at risk of 'ecosystem collapse'
15th May 2014
The Amazon basin faces 'ecosystem collapse' according to a new report about hundreds of major dams and other mega-projects planned for the region - home to the world's greatest rainforest. David Hill reports.
This new wave of dam building in the headwaters of the Basin is a 'hydrological experiment' of continental proportions ...
412 hydroelectric dams will be built across the Amazon basin and its headwaters if current plans are fulfilled, potentially leading to the "end of free-flowing rivers", contributing to "ecosystem collapse", and causing huge social problems.
The warning comes in Mega-Development Projects in Amazonia: A geopolitical and socioenvironmental primer - a report written by anthropologist Paul Little.
Of the 412 dams already in operation, under construction or proposed, 256 are in Brazil, 77 in Peru, 55 in Ecuador, 14 in Bolivia, six in Venezuela, two in Guyana, and one each in Colombia, French Guyana and Surinam, according to the report. Of the 412 dams, 151 involve five of the six main rivers that drain into the Amazon after birthing in the Andes.
Critical changes in water flows
"The construction of many large-scale dams in the vast headwaters region of the Amazon Basin - encompassing parts of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia - will produce critical changes in continental water flows, with little knowledge of the ecological consequences of this policy", the report states.
"This new wave of dam building in the headwaters of the Basin is a 'hydrological experiment' of continental proportions, yet little is known scientifically of pan-Amazonian hydrological dynamics, creating the risk of provoking irreversible changes in rivers."
The report, co-authored and circulated by Peruvian NGO DAR, divides 'mega-development projects' into two kinds:
- infrastructure, such as the transport and electricity sectors, which in turn includes hydroelectric dams and
- extractive, such as oil, gas and mining. The focus is on the number of current projects, the larger global financial, regional and geopolitical contexts, and the potential social and environmental impacts.
Highly uneven impacts
According to the report, "The weight of these socioenvironmental impacts is distributed in an extremely unequal manner.
"The majority of the benefits derived from the construction of megadevelopment projects accrue to economic and political actors external to Amazonia, such as large multinational corporations, the administrative apparatus of national governments and financial institutions.
"The majority of negative impacts of these same mega-development projects are borne by indigenous peoples, who suffer from the invasion of their territories, and local communities, which suffer from the proliferation of serious social and health problems."
An alternative development model
Part 2 of the report acts as a kind of 'Users' Guide' to what can be done to counter such projects and the impacts they may have, and includes proposals for a "pan-Amazonian agenda for an alternative model of development."
Here's a selection of some of the report's most startling figures, as well as those included in an infogram' shown by Little at the launch:
- 1.6 million - km2 of the Amazon covered by mining concessions.
- 1.1 million - km2 of the Amazon that is or is set to be included in oil and gas concessions.
- 407,000 - km2 of mining zones in the Amazon in indigenous territories.
- 281,000 - km2 of mining zones in the Amazon in "protected areas."
- 61,487 - km2 of the Amazon involved in the exploratory phase for oil and gas by Brazilian state company Petrobras, which has more of the Amazon than any other company.
- 52,974 - number of mining concessions in the Amazon.
- 412 - number of dams in operation, under construction or proposed in the Amazon and its headwaters.
- 327 - number of oil and gas blocks in the Amazon.
- 300 - % increase in proposed dams versus existing dams in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
- 263 - number of oil and gas blocks involving the Amazon in Andean countries.
- 256 - number of dams in operation, under construction or proposed in the Brazilian Amazon.
- 151 - number of proposals for the construction of dams in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
- 84 - % of the Peruvian Amazon under oil and gas concessions in 2009, marking a threefold increase since 2004.
- 81 - number of proposed dams for construction in the Maranon River basin alone.
- 80 - % of total Amazon mining concessions which are in Brazil.
- 40 - % of Colombian Amazon open for oil and gas development.
- 25 - % of oil and gas blocks in the Amazon that are currently in production.
- 21 - % of Amazon basin covered by mining concessions.
- 19 - % of mining areas in the Amazon that are in indigenous territories.
- 17 - number of large-scale dams planned for the Amazon.
- 15 - number of large-scale dams planned for the headwaters of the Amazon basin under the 2010 Peru-Brazil Energy Agreement.
- 15 - % of mining areas in the Amazon that are in "protected areas."
- 15 - % of the Amazon that is or is set to be included in oil and gas concessions.
- 11 - % of total Amazon mining concessions that are in Peru.
- 7 - number of "primary socioenvironmental impacts" caused by mega-development projects, including "potential for ecosystem collapse", "the end of free-flowing rivers", "genetic erosion", and "the forced industrialization of the jungle."
David Hill is a freelance journalist based in Peru.
This article was originally published in The Guardian and is reproduced here via the Guardian Environment Network.
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