Pagina Principal  

English Report

The World Commission on Dams- WCD/2000 estimated that one million people were displaced from their land due to dam construction in Brazil.  This is the equivalent of 300,000 families.  Eighty million people have already been affected around the world.  Data from MAB (Affected by Dams Movement) show that, for each 100 dislocated families, 70 do not receive any kind of compensation.


*Marco Antonio Trierveiler

Gilberto Cervinski

 Luiz Dalla Costa

 Eduardo Zem 

1. Society of consumption

 Quite a few authors in the electricity sector do not separate the electric matrix debate from the debate about what kind of society we want to build.  The Affected by Dams Movement (MAB) understands that having this debate from just an economic and/or expert vision limits it.  This perspective benefits only large economic groups.  “Energy is a structural factor in society, because it defines and influences economic, financial, social, environmental, cultural, and political aspects.” (MORET, 2004).

 Neoliberalism has generated a large concentration of wealth.  A small number of the large economic groups control the world energy market.  The majority of these corporations have large banks as their stockholders.

 Approximately 75% of all the world’s energy is consumed by the United States and Europe.  Furthermore, these countries seek to gain power over the sources of energy that still exist, through territorial and economic control, war, and energy infrastructure.

 In South America, the IIRSA project, funded by the Interamerican Development Bank (IBD) and the Andes Foment Corporation (CAF), supports the construction of several hydroelectric plants, roads, waterways, airports, train tracks, etc.  In the Amazon alone, this project initially funded the construction of 10 hydroelectric plants, 14 ports, 8,000 km of roads, 2,000 km of train tracks, 3 waterways, 4 airports, and 2 gas lines. In Brazil, the BNDES (National Development Bank) is largely responsible for the financing of companies in the electric sector—363 projects that benefit large corporations are financed with resources from the Bank.

2. The Dam Industry

 Electricity assumes larger and larger participation and importance as a source of energy, as is seen in the graph below.

 The growth of electricity usage makes it so that the dam industry (technology, turbines, distribution equipment, construction company, construction materials…) has become one of the most important industries in the world, along with the oil, auto, and war industries. 

 Data from the World Commission on Dams-2000 show the construction of 45,000 large dams across the world, 2/3 of which are constructed in developing countries.

3. Dams in Brazil

 In Brazil, the production of energy that comes from hydroelectric dams represents more than 79%.  There are approximately 2,000 dams in Brazil.

 ELETROBRÁS’s Plan 2015 foresees the construction of more than 494 large dams.  According to Eletrobrás (National Electricity Company), there is also the potential that could be exploited in PCHs (Small Central Hydroelectrics), around 942 new dams.  Today, according to information from the Ministry of the Environment (MME), 50 large dams are under construction and, in the next three years under Lula’s government, 70 more large dams are being projected.

 According to a survey of the Brazilian hydroelectric potential carried out by ELETROBRÁS, 64% is found in the Amazon region, principally in the Tocantins, Araguaia, Xingu, and Tapajós rivers.  Today there are several projects in this region, the largest being the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu river in Pará (that includes indigenous land), and the Santo Antonio and Jirau dams on the Madeira river in Roraima.

 To get an idea of the dimension of the dam industry in Brazil, the invoicing of these companies from generating energy in 2003 was around R$18 billion and in distribution it was R$30 billion.  The largest portion of these resources were sent abroad in the form of profit remittance.

4. The privatization of water and energy

 There are two concepts of energy.  One of them understands energy as an essential service and therefore necessary to the entire population.  The other sees energy as a commodity to be used to make a profit.  This is the concept that is being applied in Brazil.  More than 70% of the distribution market of energy has already been privatized, basically with public money (from BNDES and Pension Funds).  In the production sector, the Lula administration’s proposal for the Private/Public Partnerships (PPP) maintains the privatization model.  Water is also being privatized together with electricity.  After the lake of a dam is formed, the company that owns the dam begins to define what can be done with the water from the lake.  In many cases, the lake is enclosed and the local population is prevented from using the water. 

5. Public Interest vs. Private Interest

 Dam construction is justified as being in the public’s interest or as a way to generate “development.”  In the majority of cases, the government emits an “expropriation by public utility” act, which requires the community to remove itself from the land.  However, energy is treated as a commodity, to benefit large economic groups.    The World Commission On Dams (WCD/2000) estimated that 1 million people were expelled from their land due to dam construction in Brazil.  This is equivalent to 300,000 families.  Eighty million people have already been affected around the world.  Data from MAB (Affected by Dams Movement) show that, for each 100 dislocated families, 70 do not receive any kind of compensation.

The families that stay on the shore of the dam lake usually live in poor conditions, not to mention the destruction of fishing and agricultural activities.

 Violence, prostitution, and competition for jobs also increase, because many workers coming from “outside” to construct the dam end up staying in the area.

 Recent studies estimate that in the next three years, dam construction will displace 100,000 families—a larger number than was predicted to be relocated in this period by the agrarian reform program.

6. Dams and the Environment

 There is no such thing as clean energy.  To some degree, all sources of energy damage the environment (Bermann).

 Some authors have presented hydroelectric energy as a “clean, renewable, and cheap” source of energy.  This is not true.

 The main gas that causes the greenhouse effect is carbon gas.  Data from 1999 show that there were 315 million tons of carbon gas emissions from energy sources in Brazil. In dams, this occurs from the decomposition of organic material, emitting carbon and methane gas.

 Data from the World Commission On Dams-2000 show that 60% of the water paths were degraded or fragmented by dam construction. In the 34,000 km² of fertile land that was flooded by reservoirs from constructed dams, which corresponds to 3.4 million hectares, there was a lot of forest, biodiversity, and fauna.


 Look at a concrete example of how social aspects of dam construction are treated. The consulting company ENGEVIX, elaborated an Impact Study on the Environment (EIA) of the Barra Grande Dam in Rio Pelotas, the division between the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina. In the study, the vegetation that was to be flooded by the future lake was described as scrub.  The License of Installation was requested from IBAMA due to the possession of this EIA. This was done before the bidding, which was not a very common thing at that time. IBAMA said that once this request was made, the procedure was to verify the EIA data in the field.  The technical reports claim that, on the day scheduled to survey the area by plane, the plane “fell” when it was still on the runway, and the fieldwork was not performed.  Even though the fact-checking had not been done, the license was emitted in 1998.  The project already had a license when it went up for bidding, and the BAESA consortium, formed by the ALCOA ALUMINIO,  CAMARGO CORREA, COMPANHIA BRASILEIRA DE ALUMINIO-CBA and DME companies, won. After 80% of the dam was constructed, the company requested a license to deforest, which is what unmasked the truth: approximately 52% of the area to be flooded was made of primary forest and of forest under advanced study of regeneration.

 One of the principal reserves of Araucária is located there.  Much of the forest will be cut down, or will end up under the lake.  Applying the politics of fait accompli (80% of the project completed), the MME, the BAESA,, and the Federal Public Ministry made a deal that the company could deforest the area in exchange for the purchase of another area. Once again the environment lost to economic power.  The EIA, BAESA, and the IBAMA employees involved in the fraud were not taken to court.

7. Damming and the price of energy

 A recent study carried out by the Institute of Strategic Development in the Electricity Sector (ILUMINA), which surveyed the price of energy in 31 countries, demonstrated that Brazil has the fifth most expensive energy tariff. The weight of this tariff on a Brazilian worker’s salary is much larger than in other countries.  Other countries like Canada and Norway, which also produce electric energy from hydroelectricity, are 29th and 30th, respectively.

 Once again it is proven: this model concentrates wealth, because energy leaves the dams with a median price of R$100.00 and gets to the people’s houses with a price of more than R$400.00.  Those who are most harmed are residential consumers, compared with industrial consumers.  From 1995 to 2004 the residential tariff had a real increase (not counting inflation—INPC) of close to 50%, while for industrial consumers the increase was 23%.

 However, not everyone pays for such expensive energy.  Large companies have subsidies (a discount) on the tariffs.  For example, the Tucuruí dam in Pará, built with public money, supplies energy to ALBRÁS, ALUNORTE and  ALUMAR in the aluminum industry.

 These industries, all foreign-owned, buy energy from Tucuruí for $23, much lower than the cost of production.  The subsidy alone that is given to ALCOA, a North American company that owns Albrás and Alumar, is more than $200 million per year.  This subsidy, which as been provided for 20 years, could have been, for example, spent on the relocation of 514,000 families by the Program for Agrarian Reform.

8. Energy for what? For whom?

 This graph shows how energy is consumed in Brazil.  We can observe that the largest consumption is done by the industrial sector.  Within this sector we can point out those that are electrointensive (i.e. those that consume the most energy.  These industries are: ironworks, aluminum, paper and cellulose.

 Other characteristic of these companies, besides being high-consumption companies, is that they are big polluters, they produce for export (see Table 1), and they produce few jobs (see Graph 3).

Table 1: Distribution by industrial production sector for internal production and export.

Selected Sectors of Heavy Industry

Production for the Domestic Market (%)

Production for the External Market (%)
















Source: BRACELPA (1997,1998); ABAL (2000, 2001); MME (1997).

 The table above shows that Brazil is one of the largest exporters of subsidized energy in the form of aluminum, iron alloy, paper, cellulose, and other products with high energy demand. In practice, this means that these raw materials are exported and return in industrialized form.  This model contributes very little to the development of the nation.

 Fifteen thousand kWh of energy are needed to produce one ton of aluminum. This is equivalent to nine years of the energy consumption of one family. However, the same electrointensive industry produces practically no jobs. While a food industry produces 70.2 jobs per GWh consumed, the aluminum industry produces 2.7 jobs per GWh consumed.

While energy is utilized this way, 5,074,400 residential homes do not have access to electric energy in Brazil, which means approximately 20,297,000 inhabitants.


9. Energy Alternatives

 It is possible to attend to the water and energy necessities of Brazilians through a different model, without displacing the population to slums and the outside fringes of cities, and without destroying our rivers, forests, and fauna. This can be done without handing over the control of our water, energy, and land to large economic groups.  Below we present a few cheap and viable alternatives.

 Repotentialization of power plants that are over 20 years old:  To repotentialize means to reform, redimension, modernize equipment, and reactivate abandoned hydroelectrics or turbines. In a recent edition of the book “The Repotentialization of Hydroelectric Mills as Alternatvies to Increase the Stock of Energy in Brazil with Environmental Protection,” the researchers Célio Bermann, José R C. da Veiga and Georges Souto Rocha, describe how the repotentialization of old hydroelectric power plants is the best alternative to make more energy available in the electric system. It has low cost, there is no environmental impact, and it can be done quickly.  We could add 7,600 MW to the system, rehabilitating and promoting repairs and improvements in the power plants that already exist.  The cost per MW of these repairs would be 1/5 to 1/3 the cost of a MW in a new power plant.

 Reduction of losses in the electric system: The Brazilian electric system has operational and technical losses on the order of 15%.  If Brazil adopted an index of losses of 6%, considered the international standard, the electric system would have an increase of equivalent to 6,500 MW of power installed (or more than half of the Itaipu power plant, which has 12, 600 MW).

 Generation of Energy from Biomass: We could increase installed potential by 3,000 MW just by using used sugar cane stalks.  We could also utilize rice hulls, sawdust, and paper and cellulose residue.

 Economy: The energy crisis of 2002 showed that we can save electric energy.  According to Carlos Vainer, a professor at UFRJ (University of Rio de Janeiro), the problem is that, since energy became a commodity with which to make a profit, companies are not interested in promoting a serious plan to use less energy.  On the contrary, there is an incentive to increase consumption.

 Generation of Wind Power: Brazil has wind power potential on the order of 29,000 MW.  An area of great potential is the Northeast (Ceará and Rio Grande do Norte). The states of Rio de Janeiro, Paraná and Rio Grande do Sul also have good wind energy potential.

 Energy generation through solar energy and Photovoltaic: Brazil has privileged places due to insolation. The São Francisco River valley has exceptional conditions. This would be a good alternative for farmers who are far from the distribution network.

These alternatives mean an increase of 40% in the power available in Brazil.  We could avoid an energy crisis without building new dams. 

 All of these challenges indicate the necessity to delve into the study and debate about different ways to produce and use energy, and about our development model.  We are being bombarded with news of a new threat of an energy shortage.  This encourages the construction of new dams, and gives guarantees of profit to private corporations, while ignoring the social and environmental impact.

 Below are a few proposals for the formulation of a new energy policy. These are:   

  Suspend the subsidies given to large corporations;

  Guarantee water and energy as national resources. These are strategic resources that can guarantee our sovereignty.  We need to stop the privatization and the commodification of this sector;

  Guarantee electric energy and water for all people in the country;

  Consider popular participation in the planning, decision-making, and execution of energy projects;

  Guarantee that no dam be built without the prior informed consent of the affected population; 

  Execute the debt of the privatized electric companies and take back public state control over the sector; 

  Prioritize social and environmental issues, rescuing the social and environmental aspects in the dams built and under construction through the reparation of the affected population’s losses;

  Correct the existing distortions in the energy sector, ending the waste in transmission, distribution, and consumption of energy;

  Prioritize investments in research, development, and implementation of alternative sources of energy, respecting economic and sustainable development criteria;

  Have a price policy, with low cost to the Brazilian people, especially for low-income workers.


 MAB. A Crise do Modelo Energético: Construir um outro modelo é Possível. Brasília-DF: MAB, 2001.

 Bermann, Célio. Energia no Brasil:para quê? Para quem?Crise e Alternativas para um país  sustentável. São Paulo.Livraria da Física: FASE, 2001.

 WCD. Barragens e Desenvolvimento: Um novo Modelo para Tomada de Decisões. Relatório da Comissão Mundial de Barragens. WCD,2000.

 MME. O Novo Modelo do Setor Elétrico. 2004 

 WWF-Brasil. A Repotenciação de Usinas Hidrelétricas como  Alternativas Para o Aumento da Oferta de Energia no Brasil com Proteção Ambiental. 2004

* Marco Antonio Trierveiler, Gilberto Cervinski, Luiz Dalla Costa and Eduardo Zem are members of the National Coordenation of the Movement of People Affected by Dams (Coordenação Nacional do Movimento dos Atingidos Por Barragens- MAB).