- Global Voices - https://globalvoices.org -

Peru: Looming Problem of the Inambari Hydroelectric Power Station

Categories: Latin America, Peru, Development, Environment

The name Inambari does not mean very much to Peruvians. Some of them may think of it in relation to the Inambari River [1], which flows through the Cuzco, Puno and Madre de Dios regions. Others may think of the Alto Inambari [2] district in the Puno region of Sandia or the Inambari [3] district in the province of Tambopata in the Madre de Dios region. In fact, this far off area of the country has almost been completely forgotten. However, recently there has been news [4] about Inambari and all of it is about the hydroelectric power station.

In March 2009, it was announced [es] [5] that a Brazilian construction company (OAS) would invest approximately 4 billion dollars to build a hydroelectric power station that would be located in the Inambari, Madre de Dios region. However in 2008, there was talk [es] [6] of an even bigger financial investment. The aim of this Brazilian firm is to supply energy to the Brazilian state of Acre, producing around 2,000 megawatts.

Many people are impressed by the sheer size of this project. For example in the blog Infaestructura Peruana [es] (Peruvian Infrastructure) the blogger states [7] that “It will be the largest electric power station in the country and the fifth biggest in South America” while the blog Desarrollo Peruano [es] (Peruvian Development) emphasizes [8] progress being made in the region: “It goes without saying that the area will receive a substantial sum in royalties from electricity in the future. This is one of the benefits of large projects.” This optimism is shared by the commenters of this post and they believe that this hydroelectric power station will bring prosperity to the region and the country.

There are dissenting voices regarding this notion of development and earning profit, and they are now being listened to. The first concern is related to the ecological harm that will be caused by the dam that will practically be located in the area of the National Park of Bahauja Sonene [9], as was officially stated by the Intercultural Communication Services (SERVINDI): “The Inambari hydroelectric project directly threatens the area and indirectly the park.” This park will also be affected by the construction of an Interoceanic highway [10].

Many residents of Puno are also completely against the project upon learning of the project [11]. As mentioned in the Puno newspaper Los Andes [es] [12], local organizations like the Association of Rural Educational Services (SER) concludes that even the future Inter-oceanic highway will be affected by the power station. “According to the description of the reservoir for the hydroelectric dam, 106.1 kilometers of highway will be submerged beneath water.” According to an opinion piece, there is also a problem of lack of information [es] [13] made worse with the absence of the region's Congressional representatives.

The blogs are not unaware of the situation. For example, the blog Cuarto Ambiente [es] (Fourth Environment) publishes a press release from the Management Committee of National Park BS from last May which mentions [14] that:

El proyecto, amenaza directamente la Zona de Amortiguamiento e indirectamente al Parque Nacional Bahuaja Sonene, hogar de miles de especies únicas en el mundo y declarada maravilla natural por la National Geographic Society, por la alteración sin precedentes de los ecosistemas de la cuenca del rio Inambari, por la modificación de su curso principal y sus afluentes, que estaría propiciando a futuro, una posible invasión de colonos de esta área natural protegida.

The project threatens the buffer zone and indirectly the National Park – home to thousands of unique species and declared a national treasure by the National Geographic Society – because of the unprecedented change in the ecosystems of the Inambari river basin and because of the changes in its main course and its tributaries, and which would encourage a possible invasion of colonizers of this natural protected area in the near future

Aldo Santos, who blogs in Exegesis [es], publishes a post after visiting [15] Puerto Manoa, one of the areas that will be affected by the dam, which follows an earlier post about the subject [16]:

Hoy, lejos ya de Puerto Manoa, sigo preguntándome, ¿cuál será el destino de las miles de familias que tendrán que dejar sus hogares para iniciar otra vida en un lugar diferente, porque el gobierno decidió construir una hidroeléctrica en sus tierras?, ¿realmente vale la pena deforestar, inundar, alterar los ecosistemas, para vender energía eléctrica al Brasil?, ¿cómo nos beneficiamos los peruanos?, ¿cuánto hemos desarrollado ahora que las cifras del canon minero o gasífero se han incrementado?

Además de discutir sobre las ventajas y desventajas de un proyecto como la Central Hidroeléctrica del Inambari, habría que preguntarse cómo este proyecto se articula con nuestra visión del desarrollo de la Amazonía en regiones como Cusco y Puno –mayoritaria y predominantemente andinas-, si existe o no dicha compatibilidad o qué otra propuesta de desarrollo alternativa tenemos como región. Discusión necesaria, para acabar con reduccionismos simplistas que ven a “la selva como una despensa del ande” y consecuentemente como un lugar al que hay que ir a explotar depredar y destruir para obtener el mayor beneficio posible.

Today, far from Puerto Manoa, I continue to ask myself what will become of the thousands of families that will have to leave their homes to start a life in a different place because the government decided to build a hydroelectric dam on their land? Is it really worth deforesting, flooding, altering the ecosystems to sell electric energy to Brazil. How will this benefit Peruvians? How much progress, if any, have we made now that the royalties on gas and the mines have increased?

In addition to arguing about the advantages and disadvantages of a project like the hydroelectric power station, various questions must be posed: how does this project fit within our understanding of development in the Amazon in regions such as Cusco and Puno, which are predominantly Andean; is the hydroelectric project really compatible with this understanding and what other options do we have? This debate is necessary, in order to stamp out misleading thinking such as “the forest as a Andean pantry” since the logic of such thinking is that the forest is a place to exploit, slash and burn, and ruin in gain the greatest benefit possible.

These types of conflicts between the government and residents have historically led to roadblocks, strikes, and clashes. Maria Isabel Guerra in Las Burbujas Recargadas [es] wonders whether this will be the next battle in the country [17]:

Los pobladores puneños actualmente se encuentran movilizándose y profundamente preocupados [18] y con razón: la represa requerida para la proyectada gigantesca hidroeléctrica de Inambari crearía un lago de nada menos que 412 km2 … La población afectada obviamente ya está exigiendo ser informada de las implicancias del proyecto para su medio y su vida, pero al parecer estas demandas de información no estarían siendo debidamente atendidas [13],

Y mientras los puneños tienen muy claros sus recuerdos, parece que a nuestros políticos y autoridades ya se les olvidaron las cosas que pasaron en Ilave y el recientísimo episodio de Bagua, situaciones ambas causadas por lo mismo: por pensar irresponsablemente que se puede ningunear a la gente, especialmente la de las provincias más alejadas de Lima, sin que haya ninguna consecuencia.

The Puno residents are currently mobilizing and are deeply concerned and with reason: the dam for this giant hydroelectric power station is supposed to create a lake of no less than 412 km2 in size. The people affected obviously wish to be informed about the implications of the project on their livelihoods and their lives, but it seems that their request for information is being ignored.

And while the Puno residents have very good memories, it seems that our politicians and authorities have short ones, they have forgotten about Ilave and the very recent episode in Bagua, a situation caused in the same way: namely politicians thinking that they can treat people like dirt, especially in the provinces furthest from Lima, without suffering serious consequences.

There is more information in the blog Inambari Dignidad [es] [19] (The Dignity of Inambari). In this forum [es] [20], there is a wide range of opinions for and against. Peruvian citizen Marc Dourojeanni wrote an article that raises question about the project [es] [21]. Another article by Javier Rodriguez Pardo, an Argentine journalist, writes that this project is part of a trend in South America of “Highway Robberies.” [es] [22]

Translation by Stephen Francis Hampshire Diggines