The Madeira River is the Amazon's 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 Initiative for the Integration of South American Infrastructure, or 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 habitat of thirty–three endangered mammal species will be destroyed. And the Amazon’s most important tributary will no longer flow freely.
International Rivers is working with a coalition of civil society organizations based in the region to leverage technical analyses, grassroots mobilization and legal challenges to highlight the detrimental effects of the Madeira River dams.
Other Resources on the Web
Video - Rio Madeira Vivo 7 1/2 minute video by Glenn Switkes on the campaign against the Madeira dams.
The Madeira River: Life Before the Dams tells the story of the people of Brazil and Bolivia affected by the construction of the Santo Antonio and Jirau dams, part of the Madeira Hydroelectric Complex.
- Visit our interactive Dams in Amazonia database to see planned dams for the Amazon Basin
- The Amazon under threat: Damming the Madeira, International Rivers fact sheet on Madeira dams
- Both sides say project is pivotal issue for Brazil, New York Times article with slide show on Madeira dams project
- International Rivers' Amazon Campaign Blog