Political Benefits as Barriers to Assessment of Environmental Costs in Brazil's Amazonian Development Planning: The Example of the Jatapu Dam in Roraima

Environ Manage. 1996 Sep;20(5):615-30. doi: 10.1007/BF01204135.


Development projects are rapidly changing the landscape in Brazilian Amazonia. Environmental impact assessments have been required since 1986, and the regulatory system is evolving as precedents are set by each new development project. The Jatapu Dam in Roraima provides an illustration of underlying impediments to assessment of environmental costs and to due consideration being given to these assessments when decisions are made. The high priority placed on the dam by the Roraima state government is unexplainable in terms of economic returns. The place of the dam in a long-term political strategy provides the best of several possible explanations, any one of which is incompatible with a "rational" weighing of economic and environmental costs and benefits. A number of lessons can be drawn from the experience of Jatapu, but some of the problems have no solution. The barriers to rational decision making illustrated by Jatapu apply to development projects in many parts of the world.KEY WORDS: Jatapu Dam; Amazonia; Dams; Hydroelectric development; Brazil; Tropical forest; Environmental impact assessment