How a Dam Building Boom Is Transforming the Brazilian Amazon

The Belo Monte Dam under construction on the Xingu River, a tributary of the Amazon, in 2015. Fábio Nascimento/Greenpeace

How a Dam Building Boom Is Transforming the Brazilian Amazon


Brazil is in the midst of a hydropower construction boom that is inundating large areas of rainforest and driving indigenous people from their lands — all while failing to fully develop the country’s vast potential for solar and wind energy.

 By Philip Fearnside • September 26, 2017

 Brazil is in the midst of a dam-building spree in the Amazon basin that is changing the face of the world’s largest tropical forest region. The boom is driven by the country’s agricultural and heavy industrial interests, is being carried out with little regard to the impacts on indigenous people and the environment, is proceeding with little effort to capitalize on the nation’s vast renewable energy potential, and is often fueled by corruption. 

The most notable example is the massive Belo Monte Dam, the world’s fourth-largest hydroelectric project. The dam itself has already blocked the 1,000-mile Xingu River, a major tributary of the Amazon. Belo Monte’s reservoir, filled at the end of 2015, flooded 260 square miles of lowlands and forest, displaced more than 20,000 people, and caused extensive damage to a river ecosystem that contains more than 500 fish species, many of them found nowhere else. When the turbine installation is complete, 80 percent of the river’s flow will be detoured from the river’s natural channel, which – among other impacts – will leave three indigenous groups without the fish and turtles on which they depend…