Vaupés River, Colombian Amazon

Amazônia Viva

Defending Rivers and Their People

Map of the Rivers of the Amazon
Map of the Rivers of the Amazon
Wikipedia Commons

The Amazon Basin, home to 60% of the planet’s remaining tropical rainforests, is an immense region nearly the size of the continental United States. The Amazon's incredible biodiversity is well-known, and new research confirms the critical role that this unique biome plays in regulating the climate not only of South America, but also of parts of North America as well.

Increasingly, the Amazon Basin is being targeted for large dam projects. More than 60 large dams are being planned for the Brazilian Amazon, and neighboring countries Peru, Bolivia and Colombia are planning scores of dams of their own. If built, these projects would dramatically affect the Amazon’s fragile web of aquatic and terrestrial life, as well as displacing tens of thousands of indigenous and river bank communities.

Roughly 83% of the Amazon rainforest is still intact, and a principal factor in the Amazon’s survival has been its remoteness. But now a series of large–scale hydroelectric dams and industrial waterways (hidrovias), associated with mining, logging and agribusiness schemes, threaten to transform the Amazon into a center for extraction of raw materials for export.  The transformation of the Amazon’s greatest tributaries into a series of slack-water reservoirs is being spearheaded by a powerful alliance of state energy bureaucracies, politicians and large private dam-building corporations.

  • Visit our interactive Dams in Amazônia database to learn about dams planned for the Amazon

Once built, projected dams and industrial waterways would provide the power and transport needed to move large quantities of resources out of the Amazon—and accelerate its destruction.  Many of these projects are being built by Brazilian construction companies and financed by the Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES). And some are included in the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA), a program supported by international financial institutions which regards the vast natural areas of the continent as "obstacles to development."

International Rivers works with threatened communities, indigenous peoples, social movements, NGOs, independent researchers and other partners to fight destructive dams planned for the Amazon, while promoting dialogue and policy reform for alternative strategies to meet legitimate energy needs in the region.

Some Key Dam Projects in the Amazon:

  • The Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River would divert the flow of the river and devastate an extensive area of the Brazilian rainforest, displacing over 20,000 people and threatening the survival of indigenous peoples.
  • The Santo Antônio and Jirau dams are being built on the Madeira River, the principal tributary of the Amazon. 
  • A series of dams are being planned for the mighty Tapajós, Teles Pires, and Juruena Rivers of the Tapajos Basin, also major Amazon tributaries. The dams would flood national parks, reserves and indigenous lands.  
  • The Araguaia and Tocantins rivers, which empty near the mouth of the Amazon, are targeted for dozens of large dams.
  • The Peruvian Amazon is facing a series of planned dams on the Inambari, Ene, and Marañón Rivers, upstream from Brazil.