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Hydroelectric dams bringing conflict to Brazil

February 19, 2013

Though the global economy has been on a slow recovery since the economic collapse that began in 2007, Brazil is among a handful of nations that has thrived in recent years. With its considerable tourism and petroleum money, the country has been reinvesting much of its gains back into its national infrastructure, and though the country's new push to embrace hydroelectricity has wrought cheers from some environmentally conscious organizations, it has created some conflicts among many of the locals.

Currently in construction, the Jirau hydroelectric dam will cover an 8 kilometer stretch of the Madeira river, and will be one of the most complex power facilities in the world. The dam will provide electricity to the country's largest city, Sao Paolo, though officials claim it will only cover roughly 5 percent of the region's power needs over the coming 10 years. As such, the government has launched a push to establish several smaller dams along the Madeira to help bridge the gap, something that puts much of the local environment at risk.

To serve this new power strategy, the country has begun an extensive process of diverting rivers, digging new canals and dykes, and laying concrete through rural pathways to help facilitate the travel of water. This construction has required the clearing of forests and could supplant many of the rural tribes living in the densely packed Amazon region. Furthermore, the economic impact of the dams has many afraid that the project could saddle future generations with a considerable debt.

Speaking to the Guardian, Brent Millikan, the Amazon program director in Brazil for International Rivers, claims that the broad strokes taken by the government are being performed without proper consideration for the impact they will have on the area.

"This is a sort of 1950s development mentality that often proceeds in a very authoritarian way, in terms of not respecting human rights, not respecting environmental law, not really looking at the alternatives," said Millikan.

Scheduled to be completed in 2015, the Jirau dam has been at the center of controversy since its inception. In April of 2005, irate workers on strike over wage discrepancies set fire to much of the construction site, destroying 30 fledgling structures and looting the onsite company store.

Individuals interested in keeping up with the developments as they unfold can stay in touch with people on the scene and at home by investing in prepaid phone cards.

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