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Brazilian Dams

Map showing principal river basins in Brazil

Map showing principal river basins in Brazil
See larger image

Brazil is one of the world’s leading dam–building nations, and is already highly dependent on hydropower for its electricity needs, with about 80% of its electrical energy coming from large dams. Despite recent initiatives to diversify the country’s sources of electrical energy generation, energy planners and industries are pressing for a major expansion of hydroelectricity in Brazil, saying it is crucial for the nation’s economic growth. While dam opponents advocate for more appropriate and less destructive ways to get electricity (PDF, "Brazil Weighs Potential for an Energy Evolution," p 8), Maurício Tolmasquim, head of the national energy planning agency EPE, has said that opponents of dams "would have Brazil return to the stone age."

Construction of dams in Brazil has caused enormous social and environmental impacts. The Brazilian Dam–Affected Peoples Movement (MAB) estimates that one million Brazilians have been impacted by dam construction, and that 70% of these people have not received compensation for their losses. MAB, which was originally formed by populations affected by Itaipu dam in the 1970s, has today grown into a national movement, and is one of the strongest organizations of dam–affected people in the world.

Recent controversies have shown the inadequacy of current standards for planning and licensing new dams. Studies for Barra Grande Dam, on the Pelotas River in the Uruguay River basin were shown to be fraudulent in failing to mention that several thousand hectares of primary forests would be flooded. The Environmental Impact Assessment for Estreito dam, on the Tocantins river, stated that endangered river dolphins would be "helped" by the dam’s restricting their habitat, making them easier to manage. Studies for dams have also, in nearly every case, seriously underestimated the numbers of people eligible for compensation or resettlement. The Brazilian government has ignored the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams, saying that following the WCD guidelines would make it difficult to build new projects.

latest additions

Gates Fail on Campos Novos Dam

A diversion tunnel for the recently built Campos Novos dam in Brazil failed in late June, causing an uncontrolled release of the water from the huge upstream reservoir reports the Engineering News Record. Journalist C. J. Schexnayder writes that the failure caused no loss of life, the dam contractors assert that the main structure is intact, but the event is nonetheless raising alarms from international environmental groups and sparking concerns about additional delays in the project, which is already well behind schedule.

July 5, 2006


Aerial Photos Reveal Massive Cracks in Brazil’s Campos Novos Dam

Aerial photographs released yesterday show major cracks at the base of the 626–foot (202–meter) tall Campos Novos dam in Brazil, suggesting potentially irreparable damage. It appears that a diversion tunnel has failed causing severe leakage leading to cracks in the base of the dam. The newly completed dam also suffered an uncontrolled release of water last week, completely emptying the reservoir behind the dam, but this, fortunately, did not result in downstream casualties.

June 27, 2006


BNDES Could Finance Company With History of Social and Environmental Conflicts

Read article by IRN’s Glenn Switkes regarding possible financing by Brazil’s National Development Bank for Tractebel’s Estreito dam project, despite past instances of social and environmental irresponsibility by the Belgian company.

April 19, 2006


Brazilian Hydroelectric Auction Fails to Increase Capacity, Attract Investors

Read the IRN press release on the failure of the initial power auction under Brazil’s new electric sector model.

December 17, 2005


Impacts of Hydroelectric Dams in the Uruguay Basin

Read the Letter from the Forum on the Impact of Dams in the Uruguay River basin, Porto Alegre.

September 2005

Additional Information

Glenn Switkes, Latin America Campaigns Director

International Rivers Network


Phone: +55 11 3822 4157