dam complexes are the target for much criticism from environmentalists.
Organisations such as the International Rivers Network (IRN), the Sierra
Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, all based in the US, are critics
of such complexes. Recently, when the massive Three Gorges dam complex
was formally unveiled in China, newspapers were full of reports of how
this would cause irrevocable environmental damage. The International Rivers
Network put an advert in the New York Times telling foreign companies
and banks to withdraw their investments in the complex. In March 1997
the first international meeting of People Affected by Dams was held in
the city of Curitiba in Brazil. Delegates demanded an immediate moratorium
on the building of large dams. The majority of the delegates were from
Brazil. Brazil presently has 600 large dams (defined as over 15 metres)
with another 494 proposed. Under Brazil on the Move, Brazil plans to build
ten new dams in the Amazon region. The meeting heard complaints from these
people about problems, such as filthy water and an increase in mosquitoes
and diseases when rivers are dammed and the forced relocation without
compensation of tens of thousands of people who lived on dam sites.
largest funder of dam complexes, the World Bank, is now listening to the
environmental campaigners. In April 1997, at a conference on dams in Geneva,
the World Bank agreed to set up guidelines for building and operating
dams which will balance the competing demands of the economy and the surrounding
environment. In November 1997, the World Bank also launched the
World Commission on Dams in Washington with the World Conservation Union
and anti-dam campaigners. It will set up and enforce the first international
standards for dam construction and management.
organisations such as the International Rivers Network also oppose the
Serra da Mesa dam, located south of the Tucuruí dam on the Rio
Tocantins. This is the last of the huge dams commissioned by the Brazilian
military government during the 1970s. They argue that the 154 metre high
Serra da Mesa will destroy flora and fauna, including some endangered
species, destroy pre-historic archaeological sites and cover mineral reserves.
They also add that the timber valued at US$15 million will be left to
rot beneath the reservoir along with vegetation which could affect water
quality in the future.
Balbina Dam on the Rio Uatumã in the state of Amazonas, is now
recognised even by government officials as a disaster. Balbina was another
of the huge dam complexes developed by the Brazilian military government
during the 1970s. Its flood gates closed in 1987. It flooded an area of
236,000 hectares of forest. This contained 58.5 million cubic metres of
wood with a total value of US$400 million. Environmentalists have a list
of complaints: biodiversity loss, the creation of stagnant water and the
increase in diseases, the death of the Rio Uatumã upstream, the
displacement of peasants and the Waimiri Artoari Indians, with little
or no compensation. Finally, they point out it will only produce 32 per
cent of its proposed electricity generating capacity, just 80 megawatts
of power (the average Brazilian dam produces 50-65 per cent of its proposed
lengths to which environmentalists and anti-dam activists will go to stop
the construction of dams is illustrated by the story of the Rio Altamira-Xingu
Hydroelectric dam complex in Pará. In 1988 the Brazilian Government
was in the final stages of negotiating a power sector loan with the World
Bank to finance the complex of nine dams. The loan was halted. A major
factor in the decision to halt the loan was the campaign led by US environmentalists
and the Kayapó Indian tribe from the affected area. The dam complex
would have covered 7.6 million hectares of land. The US$10.6 billion project
would have displaced the Kayapó and other Indian groups. The campaign
which ensued centred on the argument that Indian environmental knowledge
would have been lost if their communities were displaced. The wealth and
importance of the folk-scientific systems of the Indians was
used as an argument to challenge the construction of the complex.
January 1988, whilst attending an international symposium in Florida on
the Wise Management of Tropical Forest, Kayapó Indian
leaders were encouraged by environmentalists to protest to the main lender–the
World Bank–against the dam complex. The National Wildlife Federation
and the Environmental Defence Fund paid for their expenses and organised
for them to visit Washington. In February 1988, at the same time as the
Brazilian Government was negotiating with the World Bank, the Indians,
accompanied by environmentalists and anthropologist Darrell Posey, lobbied
the World Bank, the State Department, Treasury representatives, members
of Congress and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. The US director
of the World Bank assured the Indian chiefs that he would continue to
vote against the power sector loan. Other directors, although less committal,
declared that they would investigate infringements of Bank rules protecting
Indians and the forest resources upon which they depended.
Washington visit was followed up with an international campaign. On returning
from the US, the Indian leaders were indicted by the Brazilian Government
for, among other things, jeopardising Brazils economic relations.
In their defence the Indians were supported by an array of groups: the
Brazilian Bar Association (OAB) and its Human Rights Commission, the Brazilian
Anthropology Association, the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of
Science, the International Society of Ethnobiology, Cultural Survival,
Survival International, Amnesty International and hundreds of other NGOs
concerned with conservation, Indian rights and human rights. This campaign
led to the creation of alliances between human and Indian rights groups,
on the one hand and environmentalists on the other.
alliances led to a meeting known as The First Encounter of Native Peoples
of the Xingu which took place in February 1989 in Altamira, in Pará.
At the meeting indigenous groups and environmentalists drew up A United
Strategy for the Preservation of the Amazon and its Peoples. The worlds
media and an assorted array of personalities, such as the pop singer,
Sting, co-founder of the Rainforest Foundation, attended. The five day
meeting centred around demonstrations against the proposed dams on the
environmental campaign also led to the launch of Nossa Natureza, Our Nature,
the Brazilian Governments first environmental policy. As part of
this policy the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable
Resources was set up.
campaigns may not have been the only reason for the halting of the loan.
In the late 1980s the US was attempting to end Brazils state protection
of its industries. Brazil was cited for unfair trade practices under the
USs Super 301 Trades Act. The US accused Brazil of high import duties
in the protection of its computer industry and of failing to protect US
pharmaceutical patents and trademarks. In addition the US opposed and
was attempting to undermine Brazils nuclear power accord with Germany.
In this context it is possible to argue that the US had an ulterior motive
for paralysing the loan. The campaign orchestrated by US environmentalists
may have given the US justification for its actions.