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POWERING UP THE AMAZON
The good: green energy;
The bad: catastrophic floods
The Amazon River's tributaries have always been the lifeblood of the region's biodiversity. Now Brazil hopes to transform them into the country's industrial lifeline by constructing more than 60 dams throughout the Brazilian Amazon basin in the next two decades. The largest dam—Belo Monte, on the Xingu River—will be the world's third-most-powerful hydroelectric complex, producing up to five times as much energy as the Hoover Dam.
Brazil, the world's eighth-largest economy, is touting hydroelectricity as its green power source. The dams are integral to an enormous multinational effort to construct a continent-wide infrastructure of roads, waterways, and energy and communications projects, many of which will run through the Amazon.
While the power may be green, its consequences could be catastrophic. Many studies attest that hundreds of fish and riverine species will be at risk of extinction, and previously isolated indigenous groups will be forced into socialization. The likelihood of flooding and disease outbreaks near the new reservoirs will increase. Belo Monte will displace 20,000 people, and hundreds of thousands could feel the effects of the dam spree throughout the Amazon area.
The region's national leaders, many of them decidedly left-leaning, are selling the Amazon dams and associated infrastructure projects as fulfilling their promises of jobs and development to the region's poor. But skepticism and opposition are widespread. Narda Baqueros organizes against hydroelectric plants near her home in the northern Bolivian town of Riberalta. "Is it worth it," she asks, "if we have to choose between leaving our homes or facing watery graves?"
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