Tourism suporting conservation

Dams

Bolivia is definitely one of the most privileged countries in the world. We have among the most beautiful mountains in the world, rivaled only by the Himalayas and, according to the Tibetan monks who have visited, as powerful and sacred as they. From altitudes well over six thousand meters, waters from these mountains work their way down to the Amazon.

The waters form mountain lakes from which small streams trickle, some of which become rivers or form powerful waterfalls, moving on down through cloud forests, into subtropical forests, converging into navigable rivers which facilitate access into tropical forests. Accompanying the waters through these areas is like passing through paradise. Water draws life and if one is respectful of it, through these waters one can share time with myriads of extraordinary animals.

A beautiful way to travel through these areas is with a rubber bag. One puts one’s gear into it, blows it up, and simply floats and swims on down with the water. Where the rapids or waterfalls are too strong, one walks around them and continues on down by foot and with the huge changes in altitude, these waters do become powerful.

The flow of these waters allows the opportunity to generate power and many communities take advantage of this, installing pelton motors to produce electricity. This small-scale method of generating power is something that can be done without damaging nature and improves the lives of the local people.

There is, however, another form of using the water which has proved to be devastating to land areas: giant dams. One of these dams was proposed in what is now Madidi National Park fifty years ago, but was virtually forgotten until a few years ago when it was revived by an important political figure.

This dam would have flooded over four hundred thousand hectares of Madidi National Park, consequently leaving Bolivia with an enormous debt (the estimated cost was of over three thousand million dollars). In addition to this, the dam would have impoverished hundreds of thousands of hectares of land that depends on the flooding to maintain their fertility, as well as destroying the habitat of countless varieties of fish and other fauna. It was only due to the efforts of Eco Bolivia Foundation (www.ecobolivia.org) with the help of the International Rivers Network (www.irn.org), Europeans Rivers Network (www.rivernet.org), World Commission on Dams (www.dams.org), Rainforest Action Network (www.ran.org), and the National Geographic Society (www. nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0003/madidi) that this destructive scheme was stopped.