The Good and Bad of Building Dams

The Kayapo are blocking a major Amazonian road to protest Belo Monte Dam in Brazil.
International Rivers, via Flickr

Are there dams where you live? Robin Basselin and Ryan Geertsma look at the good and bad results from building dams.

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Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Robin Basselin.

Voice 2 

And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

There is a building project in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. Construction workers make wide roads through the trees. They drive big trucks to the Xingu River. There, they empty their loads of rock and sand. The construction site is noisy and busy.

Suddenly, six small, simple boats arrive on the river. Men jump out of the boats. The men have black and red paint on their faces and bodies. They carry long sharp spears. But the men with the painted faces do not hurt anyone. They ask for the keys for the trucks and machines. The workers are afraid. Many of them run away. The construction work stops.

Voice 2 

The painted men live in the area around the Xingu River. They came to peacefully protest the building project. A power company is building a very large dam on the river – the Belo Monte Dam. This dam will make electricity. But it will also affect the local people. Dam projects have caused protests like this in many places in the world. Today’s Spotlight is on dams and how they affect people and the environment.

Voice 1 

A dam is a barrier across a river - like a huge wall. This barrier is usually made of hard, grey concrete. It controls the flow of the water. On one side of the dam, the water collects in a calm lake. On the other side, water pours quickly through the structure. Some dams look like a very heavy waterfall.

Voice 2 

This water does more than create an amazing sight. It moves quickly and turns a turbine. This machine creates electricity. About 20% of the world’s electricity comes from dams. And this electricity is renewable. Water does not get used up. It can flow through the dam over and over again. And this does not usually create waste or pollution. This is the main reason that people build dams. But there are many other good and bad effects of dam projects.

Voice 1 

The lake part of a dam is a good place to store water. It can also help to control flooding. People can control how quickly the water flows through the dam. So if there is too much rain, they can release more water. When there is not enough rain, people can stop the water from flowing. Then the lake can be used for irrigation. Farmers and other people who need water can pump it from the lake. In some places, these lakes are also places for recreation. People can do water sports or use the area for fishing.

Voice 2 

But a dam can also cause many problems. Building a dam changes the land and environment over a large area. When people build a dam, they flood a large area of land. This creates the lake. But there are plants and animals that live on this land. So the animals must leave the area. Trees and plants die under the water. Sometimes there are trees or animals that only live in that area. If they die then there will be no more left of them in the world.

Voice 1 

The fish in the Xingu River in Brazil are an example of this. The Belo Monte Dam project is changing the river. Many of the local fish populations are decreasing. This is a problem for the people who live in the area. The fish are their main food. It is also a problem for the fish themselves. One kind of fish living in the Xingu River is the Zebra Pleco. These are small black and white fish. They are found only in the Xingu River. The dam project is moving the river. It is possible that none of the Zebra Pleco fish will survive.

Voice 2 

Dams affect more just the wildlife in an area. They affect people too. If the Belo Monte Dam is built, more than 24,000 people will have to leave their homes. The area will be flooded. Many of these people are native people. They have lived around the Xingu River for generations. They depend on the river and rainforest to survive. Many of these native people do not want to move. Illyo Alavez Desilva is a fisherman in the area. He told Al Jazeera news:

Voice 3 

“Belo Monte is breaking up our community and kicking us out of here forcefully. We have no choice. For me the saddest part of this story is that everything I have helped create here, I am now watching being destroyed.”

Voice 1 

The company building the Belo Monte Dam promised they would help the local tribes. Governments and companies sometimes try to work with the communities who live near a dam project. They ask to build a dam in the community. And in return they may offer to help the people who live there. But the help does not always come.  The tribes near the Belo Monte Dam say that the power company is not helping them. Bebtok is one of the tribal leaders. He explained to Al Jazeera why he and his tribe are protesting the work of the dam:

Voice 4 

“We would not be here today if the company and the government would have done what they promised to us. In my community nothing has been done. There is no quality health post. There is no school. They have not built a road for us. My road is the river. And that is going to be dried up.”

Voice 1 

No one knows what will happen to the people in the Belo Monte Dam area. There are many protests in this area. And the dam will destroy a large part of the Amazon rainforest. Sadly, this situation is common in many dam building projects. Some dams do get good results in providing electricity. But they have a big effect on the people and environment.

Voice 2 

Is there a dam near where you live? Has it had any effect on the people who live near it? How has it affected the plants and animals around the dam? Tell us about it! Leave your comments on our website. Or you can email us at You can also find us on Facebook - just search for spotlightradio.

Voice 1 

The writer and producer of this program was Rena Dam. The voices you heard were from the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘The Good and Bad of Building Dams.’

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Is there a dam near where you live? Has it had any effect on the people who live near it?


Avatar Spotlight
said on July 03, 2013

I am in favor to construct Dam, in my state Paraná Brazil we have the largest Dam of the wolrd “Itaipú” and we have no problem

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jack shin
said on July 05, 2013

When i lived in Korea, I’ve never been to Dam where place in Korea. :)
but i’ve heard that people goes there for picnic or family trip sometimes

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said on July 06, 2013

There are some big dam projects in China. Since that time they have many serious earthquakes. The reason for this is the big additional mechanical load (water) on the earth plates. Human thinking is always short thinking.

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said on August 24, 2014

I do not encourage to stop dam building for electricity, but the company and government have to keep their promised. In Vietnam, many dam was builded for electricity and the government supported the people who live in the erea, but they did their support for “passing”, many houses, schools, ... what were builded by government went down early, so that people can not live in and some new erea for local people were empty, no one. This is a large waste. I don`t understand why the company and government can not keep their promise and can not do better for local people ?

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Mss Flamboyant
said on August 28, 2014

The energy is necessary for every countries to develop. But Government should take care about the bad things of dam and how it affects local people and environment. Architects should think twice about projects. We should choose projects which affect residential people and environment at least.

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said on August 28, 2014

A lot of Dam was created in China, I think that will been change environment, this is why a lot of earthquake happened.

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said on August 31, 2014

Building dams is needed but, unfortunately, these building projects damage extremely the environment just as the subsistance of native people who are depended on natural recources in this area. Besides, many unique endangered species of animals or fish may become extinct totally because of flooding of large territory. Governments and companies should provide really effective help to the communities of local tribes to rescue them from the hopeless situation. Particularly, the negative results from dams’ building should not outweigh its many important positive results though.
Thanks for excellent program!

Rod's avatar
said on January 07, 2015

Compared to others forms to produce electricity like mineral coal, the side effect of dam is only local. The side effect of burning coal is global.

Learning Everything's avatar
Learning Everything
said on February 11, 2015

GOD bless. Thanks

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said on July 18, 2018

Yes! My country must be the world champion of existing dams to produce electricity. There are some people who said it is not good because dams occupy a lot of land which could be used for another economics activities, but I don’t think so, and, by the way, the lakes of the dams are being used for fish creation and tourism.
Brazil has 8.517 Km² of lands and some of them can be used for dams whitout any evil to population.
I know that the “echoannoying” people make a great noise every time the governnment announces the built another dam, but the majority of us know how to deal whit them: we make ear of sellmen…

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said on July 19, 2018

We wish the good things in life. We wish the best things in life. There are the good things in nature. There are the best things in nature. We know about nature. We know about the good things in nature. We develop life. We protect the best things. We wish the good things in life. We wish the best things in life. We develop life. We develop life in sustainability.