Among the IIRSA projects approved in 2000- Initiative for the Integration of South American Regional Infrastructure -, there was the construction of two dams on the Madeira River, the biggest tributary of the Amazon River. The communities of Jirau and Santo Antonio, where the dams would be built, launched the Viva Rio Madeira Vivo campaign and oppose the megaprojects that would flood their territories and destroy the areas ecosystem. According to International Rivers Network, the Madeira River is the Amazons largest and most important tributary. Spanning about a quarter of the Brazilian Amazon, the Madeira Basin is a treasure trove of biodiversity, providing home to the spotted jaguar, giant otter, pink dolphin, and countless other endangered mammal species. The river teems with life – an estimated 750 fish species migrate some 4,500 km each year to spawn and feed in the nutrient-rich, muddy waters of the upper Madeira. But all this is under threat. The Brazilian government is building two massive hydroelectric dams on the Madeira. Construction of these projects–plus two additional dams upstream–would transform the Madeira into an industrial shipping canal, providing the power and transport needed to move large quantities of resources out of the Amazon—and accelerate its destruction. The project is the largest of the IIRSA.
Two huge hydroelectric dams are under construction – Santo Antonio (installed generating capacity 3,150 MW) and Jirau (3,750 MW)–at a total cost of nearly US$15 billion. Initial construction began in 2008.
The projects have been marked by labor rights violations, and have already begun to block the transport of sediment and the passage of fish and threaten the river’s unique biodiversity, affecting the land and livelihoods of thousands of river bank dwellers and indigenous people. The numerous indigenous tribes living on the Madeira banks have not formally been consulted before the start of the construction and so have not given their prior consent (as stipulated by the Convention 169 ILO).
Update June 2016 (in Portuguese): Nesta terça-feira (21), o corpo de Nilce de Souza Magalhães, mais conhecida como Nicinha, foi encontrado no lago da barragem da Usina Hidrelétrica Jirau, em Porto Velho (RO). A liderança do Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB) havia sido assassinada no início do ano e seu corpo estava desaparecido desde o dia 7 de janeiro.