Dams in the Amazon

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Energy produced by the Tucuruí dam would fuel the Grande Carajas Programme of mining.
© WWF-Canon / Mark EDWARDS

Can you tame the wild with cement?

Because of the vast quantity of water that flows through the Amazon River Basin, governments have turned to hydropower to sustain industrial growth and the economy.

But damming and disrupting water courses, the lifeline of the basin, comes at a price.

Tucuruí: a rainforest dam1

Of all the amazing things seen in the Amazon, perhaps one of the least expected is Tucuruí. Located at the lower Tocantins River, adjacent to the Amazon Basin in northeastern Brazil, this is the largest dam ever built in a tropical rainforest. And with an area of 2,875 km2, it is also the largest man-made lake ever built in such a place.

As 90% of Brazil's energy comes from hydropower, the dam was thought to be a cheaper alternative to importing fossil fuels. Energy produced by the dam would fuel the Grande Carajas Programme of mining and other industrial projects.

With the completion of Brazil's North-South electricity transmission grid, Tucuruí power can be sold nationally rather than just locally, and gives further impetus to the exploitation of the Amazon's hydropower potential.

The dam footprint

Like many other dams, Tucuruí has come at a cost. Locally, it has changed the lives of indigenous people and vulnerable ethnic minorities, displaced 40,000 people and destroyed the habitat of fish and plants.

The vast reservoir created by the dam is also a place where disease-bearing mosquitoes thrive and breed, which has affected local people and their productivity. According to the National Institute for Amazonian Research, submerged decomposing vegetation is contributing one-sixth of Brazil’s total greenhouse gas emissions2.

Download the World Commission on Dams report on Tucurui

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1World Commission on Dams. WCD To Study Brazil's Tucurui Dam and Amazon/Tocantins River Basin. http://www.dams.org/news_events/press296.htm. Accessed 07/10/05
2AmazonWatch. Belo Monte Dam. http://www.amazonwatch.org/amazon/BR/bmd/. Accessed 07/10/05

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