The political economy of dam development in South America is changing as a result of a resurgence in water infrastructure investments. The arrival of Chinese-funded projects in the region has altered a context traditionally dominated by multilateral development banks. Tensions are escalating around new dam projects and the environmental impact assessment process is increasingly the site of politicization around water in the region. In this perspective, we examine the most recent surge in dam development in South America, the resulting environmental and social impacts, and the mobilization of civil society and environmental groups that have developed in response to these projects. In the absence of regionally shared standards for environmental assessment and regional mechanisms to mitigate the emerging conflicts-primarily occurring between companies, states, and civil society-we argue there is a risk of a race to the bottom to finance infrastructure projects with laxer environmental and social standards.
Keywords: China; Conflict; Dams; EIAs; Hydropower; Regionalism.