By Chris Arsenault
RIO DE JANEIRO(Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Dams along the Madeira River in western Brazil have flooded 36,100 hectares of rainforest, according to satellite images released on Wednesday, affecting people who live along the river and harming fish populations upon which they depend.
The impacts of the two new dams, Jirau and Santo Antonio, could extend beyond Brazil to Peru and Bolivia as they disrupt the long-distance migration patterns of catfish, said the Amazon Conservation Association, a U.S.-based group which released the satellite maps.
The maps do not indicate how many people have been displaced by flooding in the Brazilian state of Rondonia where the dams are located, but analysts estimate it has had an impact on the land rights of tens of thousands of people.
Luis Fernando Novoa, a professor of planning at the Federal University of Rondonia, said at least 30,000 people who farm, fish and otherwise depend on local natural resources have been affected.
"These pictures confirm what has been happening to the communities... they have been hit hard and cannot maintain their way of life," Novoa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The dams have violated social rights and environmental safeguards producing disastrous results for the rainforest," he said.
The flooded area in Brazil, about half the size of New York City, is thought to be home to uncontacted indigenous tribes, according to data published by Brazil's National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) published before construction of the dams.
FUNAI did not respond to emails requesting comment.
Following suspension of President Dilma Rousseff over a corruption scandal, the interim president, Michel Temer, has promised to revive economic growth and is seen as a supporter of large-development projects in the Amazon.
Brazil is the world's second-largest producer of hydro electric power which supplies more than 75 percent of the country's electricity, according to U.S. government data.
Supporters of large dams say they help generate jobs and clean energy and that the area they flood is relatively small compared with the vast size of the Amazon rainforest.
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)