New Amazon dam could threaten indigenous lands and endemic species

zapora w Amazonii

Amazon’s new Castanheira dam, in the Arinos River basin, is raising serious concerns among indigenous peoples. This investment, which is currently awaiting an environmental decision, could pose a threat not only to the land of the natives, but also to local wildlife, including endemic species. An investigation by Operation Native Amazon (OPAN), a local community organization, revealed a number of inconsistencies in the project’s planning and licensing process. Indigenous people have expressed concern that the construction of the dam could bring serious social and environmental impacts, threatening traditional ways of life and local ecosystems.

Why a new dam at Amazon?

The Brazilian government is responding to the occurrence of severe droughts, convinced that its decisions are right, and is planning measures to develop hydropower and prevent water shortages. For this reason, preparations have begun in the Amazon to build dams to reduce the drought-prone nature of the rivers that feed the Amazon. The Castanheira Dam, to be located 120 km from the mouth of the Arinos River in the Juruena River basin, is another project under the initiative. The initiator is the Ministry of Mines and Energy. The government still has not set a timetable for the work, even though the investment planning process began thirteen years ago. The project is still present in national energy plans and is awaiting an environmental decision. The strategy of building river dams in the Amazon is a controversial topic due to its many potential negative effects.

Castanheira dam a Tapayuna people

A new dam in the Amazon may threaten the Tapayuna people in particular. It is an indigenous community living in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. In the past, it has become partially dispersed due to the need to leave its territory. For many years, the Tapayuna lived in villages of other tribes, so their language and traditions were absorbed by the customs of other ethnic groups. Only in 2016. have applied to Funai, Brazil’s federal agency for the indigenous peoples, for permission to reoccupy the land of their ancestors. However, they still have not received a response. Unfortunately, the implementation of the planned dam will threaten this territory – as well as the culture, heritage and history of the Tapayun people. Researchers point to potential cultural genocide.

Dams on Amazon rivers and the environment

By baffling watercourses, dams undoubtedly affect the entire river valley ecosystem. The Arinos River, according to experts from the research team, is one of the last free-flowing rivers in the Juruena basin, and the construction of another dam will bring a number of negative effects. The obstructed flow and its artificial control within the 600 km of the river’s main channel could be a threat to 97 species of migratory fish. In addition, the water level in the river will drop significantly, which could change the entire ecosystem. The Castanheira Dam is another very significant change – a huge area claimed by the Tapayuna people would be flooded. It is estimated that an area the size of 9,500 football fields would be under water, including dozens of farms.

Brazil’s new dam controversy

The civil society organization OPAN (Operation Native Amazon) conducted a study of the potential impact of the Castanheira Dam on the Arinos River ecosystem. In doing so, it revealed a number of inconsistencies in the planning and licensing process of the state environmental agency SEMA-MT, among others. related to the lack of official information on the claims of the Tapayuna people to the area where the new dam would be built or the failure to take into account the cumulative impact of hundreds of other hydroelectric dams planned or built in the area. A new facility of this type would not only cause flooding in areas historically belonging to the Tapayuna people, but would also affect the cultural well-being of the indigenous people. Indigenous people in the basin worry that the transformation of the valley will involve food shortages and make it impossible to preserve traditions. Nature in these areas is a huge part of the history and daily life of locals.

Will a new Amazon dam be built?

It is currently unclear if and when plans to build the Casanheira Dam will come to fruition. Although hydropower is renewable, building the infrastructure necessary to produce it can have a huge impact on nature and society, especially in areas as large as the Amazon. In this area, more than half of the land is protected and occupied by indigenous peoples. Opponents of the construction of such facilities also point to the possible exacerbation of drought and wildfires and greenhouse gas emissions, high investment costs and profits disproportionate to the benefits of farming, fishing and other indigenous activities. Skeptics suggest investing in wind or solar power plants, which don’t have as much environmental and social impact.

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