Environmental experts are sharply criticizing the Brazilian government for failing to assess the impact of two dams proposed for construction in the Amazon rain forest, as regulators on Tuesday announced new public hearings on the projects.
The dams are part of a four dam cascade to generate electricity and permit barges to navigate 4,200km to the Amazon's upstream tributaries in Peru and Bolivia.
The dams would flood hundreds of square kilometers and experts worry about the destruction of wildlife and rain forest, as well as problems from mining pollutants and human parasites.
Glenn Switkes, Latin America program director of the International Rivers Network, said the environmental impact assessment was inadequate for the construction of the Santo Antonio and Jirau Dams on the Madeira River, a major tributary of the Amazon River.
"The experts' review demonstrates that a poorly conceived project with the potential of devastating one of the Amazon's most biologically diverse regions is being railroaded through by the Brazilian government," Switkes said.
Experts from the National Institute for Amazon Research (INPA) said that the area to be flooded by the Jirau could be nearly twice the estimated 529km2 and could even extend into neighboring Bolivia.
INPA'S Michael Goulding and Ronaldo Barthem, from the respected Goeldi Museum research center, warned that the dams could lead to the extinction of ecologically and economically important fish species, blocking upstream migrations of adult fish and grinding up most larva and fry heading downstream.
Other potential problems include the increase of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, the advance of soy plantations into the rain forest and the impact of mercury discarded into the river by gold miners, which could make its way into the food chain and affect Amazon residents who survive on fish.
Roberto Smeraldi of Friends of the Earth said in an e-mail the plan is more than a local project and "aims at transforming the western Amazon."
Brazil's environmental protection agency is holding public hearings in Rondonia, the Amazon state affected by the project, and will then make a decision on whether or not to approve construction of the dams.
The agency announced on Tuesday that it would resume public hearings within 15 days to determine whether the project is viable both socially and environmentally.