Itaipú and Yacyretá are two mighty hydropower stations providing clean energy and maintaining clear consciences as they go, as a result of the laudable social responsibilities that each assumes
I N D E P T H / BY Jorge Marengo Camacho
For some, a hydropower station is nothing more than a renewable energy plant that, despite having a socio-environmental impact, offers an alternative to finite and polluting fossil fuels. For others, a hydropower plant is simply a great work of engineering that provides a challenge for human intelligence on its quest for the common good in enabling communities to develop. Nevertheless, for the Itaipú and Yacyretá Binational Companies, responsibility to provide energy is just one part of their wide-ranging business plan.
It should be of little surprise that Itaipú’s 2015 output of 89.215GWh makes the power plant one of the most powerful hydropower plants in the world. Neither should it be a surprise that the Yacyretá dam meets 22% of Argentina’s energy demand and this project alone represents 60% of the country’s hydropower. The surprise is that both projects have included both social and environmental responsibility as part of their main strategic activities.
Since 2003 Itaipú Binational has included social and environmental responsibility in its company mission. In 2005-2006, in addition to investing US$36 million in social action for both Brazil and Paraguay, it created the Coordinator for Socio-Environmental Responsibility and installed the Managing Committee for Socio-Environmental Responsibility, which are responsible for company policy in these areas.
As for the social sector, Itaipú works along five strategic lines not only in the local area directly affected by the station but also across both countries. Its social work ranges from supporting the construction of an entire neighbourhood with 112 homes, aawarding grants to children and young adults, and fighting against the sexual exploitation of children. It is worth underlining that the dam’s new management policies have succeeded in making savings through administrative changes, and that these savings have been used to pay for ambulances, mobile clinics, support for schools and hospitals, and remodelling neighbourhoods.
The Yacyretá Binational Company highlights in its mission statement the promotion of “attitudes in civil society that aim towards social, environmental and economic sustainability for the region”. This is achieved by promoting community projects in areas as diverse as support for small producers, providing school supplies, projects for installing health services and supporting young people at risk.
As part of the environmental commitment, the group created five conservation areas in Paraguay. These are efforts to mitigate environmental impact, and plans include periodic evaluations and studies in the areas, which cover over 20 thousand hectares. It also gives workshops on the environment, encourages environmentally friendly hiking and organises replanting campaigns in which thousands of saplings are delivered and help is given to plant them. Yacyretá helps to preserve the history of areas affected by the reservoirs through the Urban Management and Cultural Heritage Programme, a social action programme responsible for construction, provision and maintenance of new homes for families affected by the dam construction.
The very dams themselves also play a fundamental social role. In February 2016, Itaipú received its 20 millionth visitor, while the Yacyretá programmes include guided tours for students so that they can learn about the power station.
Yacyretá and Itaipú are projects that show the ability of two nations to work together towards a common goal; arms that reach out to unite peoples who had been divided by their flags. It is also very interesting to see how, in the 21st century, some companies have decided to take the risk and change strategy, becoming responsible local players. In doing so they have left behind the cold attitude of simply offering services, and become socially and environmentally-committed institutions, involved in the development not only of their country but also in that of its people. Too often these are things that get forgotten amongst the numbers and figures.
There can be no doubt that collaborating to achieve goals, albeit more slowly, will always offer results that can bring hope for all, including the region’s flora and fauna. At the end of the day, we all need electricity but we also live on the same planet and we should protect it to the very best of our ability.
3-1) Protecting children, 2) A future for young people, 3) Equality of Opportunity 4) Supporting civil servants, 5) Sustainable Works and Projects