Casa Made of Dammed

May 29, 2008

Next to a busy train station in Buenos Aires, not far from the chic restaurants and condos getting all the attention these days, lies another world. Behind a gate is a long metal shed, once used to store trains. This is La Casa del Afectado Social y Ambiental — literally, “the house of the enviro-socially affected.” Here, amidst the bustle of traffic and commuters, hundreds of people on the flip side of the nation’s renewed glitter are taking a stand.

It may have seemed like a good idea at the time: in 1983, on the Paraná River that forms part of the border between Argentina and Paraguay, the World Bank-funded Yacyretá Dam broke ground. One of the largest dams in the world, the Yacyretá eventually flooded 100,000 hectares of wilderness, displacing more than 80,000 people in both countries. It is still unfinished, and has cost more than $12 billion — well over its original $2.4 billion budget — while producing far less power than projected. While he was still president of Argentina, Carlos Menem dubbed the 70-kilometer long dam a “monument to corruption.” Patrick McCully, executive director of International Rivers, calls Yacyretá “one of the world’s most absurdly destructive dams.”

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