by Milagros Salazar
December 28, 2010
A project to construct five
hydroelectric dams in Peru will mean massive
This story is part
of a series of features on biodiversity by Inter Press
Service (IPS), CGIAR/Biodiversity International,
International Federation of Environmental Journalists (IFEJ),
and the United Nations Environment Programme/Convention
on Biological Diversity (UNEP/CBD) - all members of the
Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development (http://www.complusalliance.org)
The construction of five hydroelectric
dams in Peru as part of an energy deal with Brazil will do
considerable damage to the environment, such as the destruction of
nearly 1.5 million hectares of jungle over the next 20 years,
according to an independent study.
More than 1,000 km of roads will have to be carved out of primary
and secondary forests to build the dams and power plants and put up
power lines, says the report, carried out by engineer José Serra for ProNaturaleza, a leading conservation organization in Peru.
The dams to be built under the agreement signed by the two South
American nations in June will have a projected potential of 7,200
The energy complexes include the Inambari dam, to be built where the
provinces of Cuzco, Madre de Dios and Puno converge in the Amazon
rainforest in southeastern Peru. The hydropower project will be the
largest in Peru and the fifth largest in Latin America.
The next in size will be Paquitzapango on the Ene river in the
central province of Junín, home to the
three projected dams are:
The total combined investment is estimated at between 13.5 and 16.5
Serra's study, "Inambari
- La urgencia de una discusión seria y
nacional" (Inambari: the urgent need for a serious national debate),
highlights the great variety of flora and fauna, including
endangered and threatened species, in the areas to be flooded.
For example, the extremely rare Black Tinamou (Tinamus osgoodi), a
threatened species of ground bird, is found in the area where the
Inambari dam is to be built.
"There will be a serious impact on
the Amazon ecosystems," Serra told IPS.
Extrapolating from past developments in
the Amazon, he projects that 1,446,000 hectares of well-preserved
rainforest will disappear over the next 20 years, as a result of the
construction of the five hydropower dams.
That estimate takes into account a 10-km strip that would be
deforested along each of the roads that have to be built in order to
install the transmission towers and power lines.
It does not consider further deforestation in areas already degraded
by the construction of the Southern Interoceanic Highway, which will
link the Amazon jungle state of Acre in Brazil with several Pacific
port cities in Peru.
The study mentions a number of impacts for the Inambari and Araza
river basins, such as the dams' interruption of the migration of
many species of fish upriver to their breeding grounds, which will
in turn affect riverbank populations that depend on fish as a staple
Peru ranks fifth in the world in terms of diversity of fish species,
with more than 1,000 species, around 600 of which can be found in
the Madre de Dios river alone, the report says.
If these areas are deforested, the study also warns, sedimentation
would build up even faster in the reservoirs, reducing the
availability of nutrients in the water, which would hurt the river
ecosystems downriver and the forests that depend on the nutrients.
In addition, the rotting vegetation in the reservoirs will
contribute to the generation of greenhouse gases like methane, over
20 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon
In Serra's view, it is simply unsustainable to say that hydropower
is a form of clean energy.
The mud that accumulates in the reservoirs is similar to the
tailings water generated by the mining industry, in the sense that
it holds all kinds of chemical pollutants that can be lethal, the
Inambari hydroelectric project is to be built partly in the
buffer zone of the
Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, one of the most biodiverse natural reserves in the country.
The Brazilian consortium Egasur (Southern Amazon Electrical
Generation Company), which is to build Inambari, identified 139
species of trees, bushes and other plants in the area to be flooded.
And 50 species of amphibians and 203 kinds of birds have been
identified in the dry season.
The company also found 25 species of medium to large sized mammals.
Local residents in the area told IPS that animals there include the
lowland or Brazilian tapir, the jaguar, and the paca, a large
Mariano Castro, an expert with the Peruvian Society for
Environmental Law, told IPS that,
"the state only puts a priority on
the economic and commercial dimension, without considering the
natural value of these places or the high environmental costs.
"What's more, there is a belief that these environmental
considerations hinder private investment, and there is no
acknowledgement that these are requisites necessary for
developing sustainable investment," he said.
Congressman Yonhy Lescano said
President Alan García told him that
Egasur planned to pull
out of Inambari. But neither the company nor the government has
confirmed the report.
Experts believe it is unlikely because Inambari Geração de Energía,
Egasur's parent company, recently increased its capital - an
indication that it intends to expand, rather than close down,
Meanwhile, fears are rising among 18 Asháninka communities and 33
other human settlements that would be displaced by the flooding
caused by the Paquitzapango dam, to be built on the Ene river by
Odebrecht, one of Brazil's largest construction companies.
The natural ebb and flow of the Ene river and its tributaries will
be modified in that area, along with the availability of fish for
human consumption, Ernesto Ráez, a biologist with the Cayetano
Heredia University's Centre for Environmental Sustainability, told
The Mainique dam, for its part, is slated to be built in an area
that is sacred to the
Matsiguenga indigenous people, who live in the
jungle along the Urubamba river in Cuzco province.
The sacred spot is the Pongo de Mainique, a narrow whitewater canyon
with abundant fish species that forms part of the
Sanctuary, a nature reserve.
Before signing the agreement with Brazil, the Peruvian government
should have commissioned an environmental impact study, to assess
the damages, Castro remarked to IPS.
He also said it was a mistake not to include in the decision-making
process environmental regulatory agencies and government bodies that
work with indigenous communities.
Energy experts say Peru does not need to tap Amazon jungle resources
to meet domestic demand for electricity, because the country's
installed capacity of more than 6,000 megawatts is sufficient to
cover current needs.
They also say future demand, projected to grow to 12,000 megawatts
by 2020, will easily be covered by the wind energy potential of the
country's Andean highlands and coastal regions, estimated at 22,000
But going against the grain of recommendations,
administration introduced a bill in Congress in October that would
waive the requirement for companies granted concessions to build
hydropower dams to present environmental impact studies.