Last update:
2019-07-22

Balbina Hydroelectric Dam, Amazonas, Brazil

Widely considered as one of the worst hydroelectric projects ever realized, Balbina is highly inefficient in producing electricity and a major GHG emitter, has flooded vast areas of rainforest, destroyed local biodiversity and displaced local communities.


Description:

The Balbina dam is operated by Eletronorte and was inaugurated in 1989. It came as part of a national integration and economic growth offensive (the Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento, PAC) that was pushed forward by Brazil’s military government in the 1960s and 1970s in the Northern Amazon. The start of dam constructions in 1979 followed the controversial construction of the BR-174 highway (see related case entry in the EJAtlas) that cut through dense rainforest and the land of the Waimiri Atroari community (self-denomination: Kinja), which had so far been living rather isolated and whose presence was seen as disturbing. At the point of dam construction, the Balbina area was inhabited by riverine communities along the Uatumã as well as the Waimiri Atroari indigenous group. However, the spread of diseases and extreme violence exerted by the military during road construction in the 1970s led to a drastic decline and the near distinction of the indigenous population, from an estimated 3,000 in the 1970s to 332 people in 1986. Moreover, the isolated Pirititi indigenous group has widely disappeared since then. In 1979 mining groups linked to the Paranapanema group started to invade nearby indigenous lands in which large cassiterite deposits were found. The military government controversially dissolved the demarcation of the indigenous land to regularize mining operations that continue until today (see also related case entry in the EJAtlas) and expropriated an area of 10,300 km2 for public utility, superimposing it to the territory of the Waimiri Atroari group. This permitted the eventual flooding of approximately 2,928 km2 through the Balbina project, including at least eight indigenous villages, leading to the displacement of about one-third of the surviving indigenous population and about 3,000 riverine families downstream of the dam [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Balbina Hydroelectric Dam, Amazonas, Brazil
Country:Brazil
State or province:Amazonas
Location of conflict:Presidente Figueiredo
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Land acquisition conflicts
Dams and water distribution conflicts
Deforestation
Specific commodities:Land
Electricity
Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Balbina hydroelectric dam is situated 100 km north of Manaus by the Uatumã river and cost about 700 million Reais. Work on the dam started in 1979, the inauguration took place in 1989. Run by state-controlled Eletronorte (full name: Centrais Elétricas do Norte do Brasil S.A.), which holds the power monopoly in Northern Brazil, it encompasses five generators and was conceptualized to produce 250 MW, while effectively the output is in average 112.2 MW according to 1989 numbers, and far less according to newer numbers, making the project already questionable from a technical point of view [1][2][3][10][12].

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Project area:236,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:several thousand
Start of the conflict:1979
Company names or state enterprises:Centrais Elétricas do Norte do Brasil S.A. – Eletronorte (Eletronorte) from Brazil
Oliveira Energia Atem from Brazil - In 2019 bought energy distribution affairs from Amazonas Energia
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB) https://www.facebook.com/MAB.Brasil/posts/2200873753337353
Associação Waimiri-Atroari
Movimento de Apoio a Resistência Waimiri Atroari (MAREWA)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Landless peasants
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Media based activism/alternative media
Street protest/marches
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Soil erosion, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Global warming, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Increase in violence and crime
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Land demarcation
Migration/displacement
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:As outlined above, the Balbina dam came with tremendous socio-environmental costs and has been widely criticized for its inefficiency. Together with other large-scale developmentalist-extractivist activities in the area, the dam brought the destruction of indigenous livelihoods and ways of living and a series of environmental injustices. Fearnside (1989) classified the dam as a ‘pharaonic work’ that demanded enormous governmental and societal effort while bringing virtually no economic returns as the number of generated megawatts remains insignificant [10].
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Baines, S. (1993): Government Indigenist Policy and the Waimiri-Atroari Indians: Indigenist Administrations, Tin Mining and the Construction of Directed Indian "self-determination" in Brazilian Amazonia. Número 152 de Série Antropologia, Departamento de Antropologia, Universidade de Brasília.
[click to view]

1. Baines, S. (2008): The Reconstruction of Waimiri-Atroari Territory. In: Oliveira, A. (ed.): Decolonising Indigenous Rights, pp. 45–64. New York: Routledge.

10. Fearnside, O. (1989): Brazil’s Balbina Dam: Environment versus the Legacy of the Pharaohs in Amazonia. In: Environmental Management, 13/4, 401-423.

15. Kemenes, A. et al. (2011): CO2 emissions from a tropical hydroelectric reservoir (Balbina, Brazil). Journal of Geophysical Research, 116.
[click to view]

16. Instituto Socioambiental (2000): Povos indígenas no Brasil: 1996/2000, p. 360 sqq.
[click to view]

Baines, S. (1996): A Resistência Waimiri-Atroari frente ao ‘Indigenismo de Resistência’. Número 211 de Série Antropologia, Departamento de Antropologia, Universidade de Brasília.
[click to view]

11. Benchimol, M.; Peres C. (2015): Widespread Forest Vertebrate Extinctions Induced by a Mega Hydroelectric Dam in Lowland Amazonia. PLoS ONE 10(7).

3. Albuquerque, R. (2013): Vidas despedaçadas impactos socioambientais da construção da usina hidrelétrica de Balbina (AM), Amazônia Central. Tese (Doutorado em Sociedade e Cultura na Amazônia) - Universidade Federal do Amazonas, Manaus, 2013.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

14. Parekh, P. (2011): Advancements in the Field of Reservoir Emissions. International Rivers Online, 02.12.2011. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

17. Fonsenca, V. (2018): Vila de Balbina sob o temor da privatização da Eletrobras. Portal Amazônia Real, 14.05.2018. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

2. Plurais Blog (2017): Mineração Taboca. 20.10.2017. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

5. Portal PIB Socioambiental (2019): Waimiri Atroari – Indigenous Peoples in Brazil. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

6. MAB (2019): Atingidos por Balbina (AM) ainda lutam por direitos. 10.04.2019. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

7. FUNAI (2012): Funai restringe ingresso em nova área de índios isolados em Roraima. 27.12.2012. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

12. Huizen, J. (2015): Wildlife catastrophe at Amazon dam a warning for future Tapajós dams. Mongabay, 25.12.2015. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

13. Schiller, B. (2017): This Dam Has Been A Disaster–Can Turning It Into a Solar Plant Save It? Fast Company Online, 27.07.2017. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

18. Radar Amazônico (2019): Eletrobras anuncia fechamento de hospital da Vila de Balbina e moradores programam manifestação para sexta (29). 26.03.2019. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

4. Fearnside, P. (2018): O Genocídio dos Waimiri-Atroari: um possível reconhecimento histórico. Portal Amazônia Real, 12.03.2018. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

20. Portal Solar (2018): Usina solar fotovoltaica flutuante começa a ser produzida na região do Amazonas. 16.11.2017. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

8. BNC Amazonas (2019): Índios narram a Guernica Amazônica na construção da BR-174. 01.03.2019. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

19. Farias, E. (2019): MPF vai questionar na Justiça decisão que torna Linhão do Tucuruí questão de “Interesse Nacional”. Portal Amazônia Real, 01.03.2019. (Online, last access: 20.05.2019)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

9. Balbina no País da Impunidade (short documentary)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update22/07/2019
Comments
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