Global conservation organisation WWF is calling for a widely shared, common vision for Amazonian river basins that are the site of large scale mining and hydropower projects. Pedro Bara, leader of WWF’s Living Amazon Initiative infrastructure strategy said that there should be a national debate regarding what kind of Amazon Latin American wants to preserve in the future.
‘That means defining which rivers are to be preserved before the accumulated effects of the innumerable hydroelectric and mining projects create environmental impacts that could be really disastrous,’ he explained. He set out WWF’s ecological vision for the Tapajos river basin at an event in Foz de Iguaçu organised by Sustainable Planet and Editora Abril publishers.
The vision is based on an analytical tool known as the Hydrological Information System and Amazon River Assessment (HIS-ARA). The tool integrates hydrological and ecological information to support development of regional ecosystem conservation strategies. Bara said the overall objective is to mitigate conflicts and boost opportunities generated by projects that are decided on in a participatory and transparent manner, and are capable of contributing to a sustainable and prosperous future for the Tapajos basin.
He explained that HIS-ARA makes it feasible to identify critical areas for biodiversity and for the maintenance of connectivity among the rivers to ensure the integrity of the hydrological networks and the aquatic ecosystems. The same tool takes into consideration the functioning of the ecological systems and all the social and cultural territories in the entire river basin area.
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In the specific case of the Tapajos River basin, which occupies 6% of Brazilian territory and is highly relevant in scenic, cultural, ecological and hydropower terms, 42 hydroelectric plants of varying dimensions are planned. The so-called Tapajos Complex alone will consist of seven plants, two of which, the Sao Luiz and Jatoba dams, will be mega installations. The damming of two more free flowing rivers in the Amazon, the Tapajos River and the Jamanxim River, will flood an estimated 2,500 square kilometres of land and WWF believes this will fragment ecologically, culturally and socially important ecosystems.
Bara also pointed out that among the major social impacts of the complex will be on the Munduruku indigenous lands, home to more than 10,000 people. ‘The application of science in the form of tools like HIS-ARA can support decision making and streamline the crucial dialogues associated with large scale infrastructure projects,’ Maria Cecilia Wey de Brito, WWF Brazil chief executive officer.
The Living Amazon Initiative spearheads WWF’s efforts to guarantee an ecologically healthy Amazon Biome that maintains its environmental and cultural contribution to local peoples, the countries of the region and the world, by maintaining ecological processes and services within a framework that propitiates inclusive economic development with social equity and global responsibility.