Dialogue with society on the hydroelectric potential of the Amazon is both feasible and necessary | WWF

Dialogue with society on the hydroelectric potential of the Amazon is both feasible and necessary

Posted on 16 May 2013    
Tapajos River Amazon waterfalls
© David Reeks/ WWF
WWF presents an integrated conservation planning tool capable of assessing the cumulative impacts of infrastructure works.

Next Thursday (May 16) WWF will present its ecological vision for the Tapajos river basin at an event in Foz de Iguaçu organised by the Sustainable Planet site and the Editora Abril publishers on the theme of Business, Energy and Environment.

Addressing the question ‘Hydroelectric plants in the Amazon: is dialogue possible?’, Pedro Bara, leader of the WWF Living Amazon Initiative’s Infrastructure Strategy, will stimulate the discussions on the need to construct a widely-shared common vision for those Amazonian river basins that are the site of large-scale mining and hydroelectric projects.

“WWF has been defending the thesis of integrated planning for the region and proposing that there should be a qualified debate in the national sphere regarding what kind of the Amazon we wish to preserve in the future. That means defining which rivers are to be preserved before the accumulated effects of the innumerable hydroelectric and mining projects, which so far have always been analysed individually, create environmental impacts that could be really disastrous”, concluded Pedro Bara.

The vision was constructed on the basis of an analytical structure known as the Hydrological Information System and Amazon River Assessment –HIS-ARA designed to integrate hydrological and ecological information to obtain a regional-scale vision of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem conservation.

This overall ecological vision is an important step towards obtaining a socio-environmental vision of the Tapajos river basin not just in terms how much the hydroelectric energy programme is going to jeopardise the future of the Tapajos basin (that is, its cumulative and synergic effects), but also towards constructing an integrated vision of regional development whereby other sectors like mining will be approached in the same way.

If the shared objective is achieved it will be possible to mitigate conflicts and boost opportunities associated to those projects that are decided on in a participative and transparent manner and are capable of contributing towards a sustainable and prosperous future for the Tapajos basin.

“The application of science in the form of tools that support decision making qualifies and streamlines the dialogues associated to large-scale investment programmes in the Amazon that have a vision of the future as their reference framework. That is the reason for our efforts to produce and present the future we envisage for the conservation of the Tapajos basin”, explains WWF-Brazil CEO Maria Cecilia Wey de Brito.

Involving society and stimulating a well qualified debate on the interests, need and urgency associated to the implantation of large-scale infrastructure projects in conserved areas of the Amazon is indispensible, insofar as the consequences are liable to affect everyone.

The first step to achieving that end is to widely publicise the reports produced by the Strategic Group for Accompanying Energy Infrastructure Ventures (Acompanhamento de Empreendimentos Energéticos Estruturantes), created in 2010 by Inter-ministerial Decree no 494, signed by the Ministries of Mines and Energy and of the Environment for the purpose of “analysing environmental and socio-economic aspects of energy planning studies with a view to providing supporting information for the process of selecting hydroelectric energy exploitation proposals”. A second important step aims, by holding public consultations and debates , to ensure the participation of society at large in the construction of a sustainable development model for the Amazon that is socially just and at the same time capable of guaranteeing the biome’s economic and ecological viability.

Cumulative Impacts
WWF has developed an ecological vision for the Amazon, and based on it, a tool for analysing the impacts of infrastructure projects and supporting planning and decision making processes using an approach that makes it feasible to identify critical areas for biodiversity and for the maintenance of connectivity among the rivers to ensure the integrity of the hydrological networks and the aquatic ecosystems. The same tool takes into consideration the functioning of the ecological systems and all the social and cultural territories in the entire river basin area.

In the specific case of the Tapajos River basin, which actually occupies 6% of Brazilian territory and is highly relevant in scenic, cultural, ecological and hydro energy terms, 42 hydroelectric plants of varying dimensions are planned to be installed. The so-called Tapajos Complex alone will consist of seven plants, two of which, the Sao Luiz and Jatoba dams, will be mega-installations. The damming of two more free-flowing rivers in the Amazon, the Tapajos River and the Jamanxim River will flood an estimated 2,500 km2 of land and fragment ecologically, culturally and socially important ecosystems. Among the major social impacts, it will affect the Munduruku Indigenous Lands, home to over 10 thousand indigenous people.

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