3 Countries in South America Defending Local Rights Against Destructive Water Projects

Communities in Ecuador, Brazil and Peru all threatened by massive water-related projects.

South America is home to some of the most biodiverse, and ethnically diverse, regions in the world, but some of the precious water resources are being used to boost energy for some while threatening local ecosystems and the health and survival of thousands, if not millions, of others.

Here are three controversial projects that may boost energy or agricultural production, but not without tradeoffs. It sure does complicate the clean energy discussion—hydropower is cleaner than fossil fuels, but is it a perfect solution? Not if you ask the people living near the proposed dam sites.


The Brazilian government is moving ahead on plans for the world's third-largest dam, Belo Monte, despite years of protests from both local and international communities and organizations.

Critics say the project, to be built on a tributary of the Amazon, will ruin the local environment and displace 50,000 (mostly indigenous) people—if not threaten the survival of indigenous groups entirely. Despite the protests, President Lula da Silva gave the formal go-ahead last month.


A giant hydroelectric project funded by China would threaten Ecuador's highest waterfall, San Rafael Falls, which sits in a crucial transition zone between the Andes and the Amazon.

The 1,500 megawatt "Coca-Codo Sinclair Hydroelectric Project" will divert water from the waterfall and put pressure on Sumaco Biosphere Reserve, an area that Save America's Forests says "even the oil companies spared this area during prospection and development of pipeline corridors in the Ecuadorian Amazon."

People in Ecuador, including a former vice president, are upset by the project, including how it is being funded: overpriced, and part of China's increasing control over the entire country's energy infrastructure.


There's an uproar in Peru over a planned irrigation scheme that nearby communities say would leave them without water. The project would involve construction of a dam and an irrigation system for 95,000 acres of agricultural land.

It's part of a government plan to diversify the economy away from mining, which is great, but it shouldn't be at the expense of local communities' water needs. That's exactly what the town of Espinar is so concerned about that clashes between protesters and police have left 44 people injured and one person dead.

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