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Jirau and Santo Antonio Dams on Madeira River, Brazil


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.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Jirau and Santo Antonio Dams on Madeira River, Brazil
State or province:Rondonia
Location of conflict:Madeira River
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Dams and water distribution conflicts
Land acquisition conflicts
Climate change related conflicts (glaciers and small islands)
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Santo Antonio Dam: The dam itself will be 13.9 m (46 ft) tall and 3,100 m (10,171 ft) long, creating a reservoir with a surface area of 271 km2 (105 sq mi) (164 km2 (63 sq mi) of which is the existing river channel). The dams power plant is divided into four sets of Kaplane-bulb turbines for a total of 44, each at 71.6 MW, for a total installed capacity of 3,150.4 MW.

Jirau Dam: The length of the entire dam will be 1,100 m (3,609 ft) while the embankment section will be 800 m (2,625 ft). The embankment dam will be arched, 63 m (207 ft) tall and will have an asphalt-core. Its structural volume will be 2,000,000 m3 (70,629,333 cu ft) of which 17,000 m3 (600,349 cu ft) will be asphalt. The dams spillway will consist of 21 gates and will have a maximum discharge of 82,000 m3/s (2,895,803 cu ft/s). The Santo Antonio dam power station will have a generating capacity of 3,150 MW and Jirau dam power station a capacity of 3,750 MW, both costing in total nearly US$15 billion.

Level of Investment:15,600,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/2006
Company names or state enterprises:Odebrecht Energy Luxembourg (Odebrecht) from Brazil
ANEEL from Brazil
GDF Suez (GDF Suez) from France
Eletrobras from Brazil
Energia Sustentável do Brasil from Brazil
Relevant government actors:Brazilian government, FUNAI (governement's indigenous affairs department), Brazil’s Economic and Social Development Bank, BNDES
International and Finance InstitutionsInter-American Development Bank (IADB)
River Plate basin development fund - Fondo Financiero para el Desarrollo de la Cuenca del Plata
Banco Santander (Santander) from Spain
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES) from Brazil
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Movement Viva o Rio Madeira Vivo, Brazil, The Instituto Madeira Vivo (The Living Madeira Institute)

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsDisplacement of people


Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Institutional changes
Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
Nilce de Souza Magalhães, activist of MAB, was killed in Jan 2016 [1]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite the protests, the construction of the dams is underway, it started commercial operations by 2012 and construction is expected to be over by 2015.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Convention 169 ILO

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Escritos sobre o agua, Forum Carajas, 2003.

Las Venas del ALCA: Integracion de la Infraestructura Regional de Sudamrica, IIRSA.

Bolivia, un pas de transito y de extraccin de recursos, Fobomade, 2003.

Otro paso en la explotacin de los pueblos y territorios Sudamericanos, Friends of the Earth, 2003.

The El Norte Amazonico de Bolivia y el Complejo del rio Madera. Fobomade, 2007.


Madeira Fact Sheet, IRN, 2007

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Inter-American Development Bank


Madeira River, International Rivers Campaigns

L'Inganno dei Green Bond, Re:Common

Madeira River dams, Survival

The Madeira River Complex, AmazonWatch

[1] MAB, 22June2016, Corpo de Nicinha é encontrado após cinco meses desaparecido

Energia Sustentavel do Brasil

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Other documents

Jirau Dam on the Madeira River, 2012 Nationalgeographic

Jirau Dam under on-going construction on the Madeira River The Washington Post

Nilce de Souza Magalhães Nilce de Souza Magalhães (MAB), killed in Jan 2016

Meta information

Contributor:Lucie Greyl & Joan Martinez Alier
Last update23/06/2016



Jirau Dam on the Madeira River, 2012


Jirau Dam under on-going construction on the Madeira River

The Washington Post

Nilce de Souza Magalhães

Nilce de Souza Magalhães (MAB), killed in Jan 2016