Plans by the Peruvian government, alongside a Brazilian firm, to build some 20 hydroelectric dams across the main truck of the River Marañón would cause the displacement of thousands of individuals, and contribute to the “eco-system collapse” of the Amazon basin, according Paul Little, a U.S.-based environmental anthropologist. Additionally, according to a detailed report on Mongabay, the dams would cause a significant uptick in methane emissions, and produce far more power than is needed for the entire Peruvian population—raising fears the ecologically and economically risky hydroelectric dams are being built to serve mining companies, or to generate power for export sale to neighboring nations.
The 20 dams, which would be built along the 1,056-mile River Marañón, were approved under a law passed by the Peruvian government in 2011. The law declared that the massive infrastructure projects serve the “national interest” and will launch the country’s “long-term National Energy Revolution.” But critics have cited a number of issues with these claims—not least because hydroelectric power has—as the Guardian points out—been omitted from the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) annual reports on renewable energy for eight years running, and is generally considered a risky bet.
Where the River Marañón is concerned, there are a vast number of other issues—the River starts in the Andes, and is the primary source of the Amazon, with significant populations living and farming alongside the riverbanks. In ecological terms, just four of the 20 proposed dams could, as Peruvian engineer Jose Serra Vega told Mongabay, cause the “biological death” of the river, with studies showing that 90 percent of fish are destroyed when such dams are built. Furthermore, the nutrient rich sediment which builds up with the flow of the river, and that is used to fertilize crops, would also be destroyed.
Then there is the question of the land that would be flooded with the creation of these dams. As Mongabay reports, The NGO International Rivers “concluded that the reservoirs created by the dams would inundate approximately 7,000 square kilometers (2,703 square miles) along 80 percent of the river’s main trunk. “The currently vibrant and free-flowing river would be almost completely drowned,” said the report.” With such a huge area of land to be flooded by the dams, it is estimated that over 1,000 people would be displaced, including the indigenous Awajuns and Wampis. Sources of livelihood—fishing and farming—would also be impacted.
In spite of protest, and alarms being raised by non-profits, residents and ecologists worldwide, the plans for the Marañón dams are still going ahead—and are expected to produce some 12,400MW when complete—this is 400MW than the projected annual national needs in 2025. With many citing concerns over a “lack of transparency” from the Peruvian government, it seems likely that the “national interests” served by these large hydroelectric projects will fall largely in the favor of mining companies and neighboring Chile, rather than in support of the River Maranon’s communities and the vital ecology of the Amazon basin.