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Last chance to see Patagonia?

10th April 2012

Appeals against the construction of a hydro dam in Chile's Patagonia have been rejected, leaving many concerned about the future of the region's rugged beauty

Chile's Supreme Court has ruled in a favour of a multi-billion dollar damming project in one of South America's most iconic landscapes. However, the country's government still needs to give the final 'thumbs up' for construction to go ahead. If approved, Patagonia could be flooded not just with 6,000 hectares of new reservoirs but power lines and unsightly hydro-electric power plants too.

David Nichols, Product Manager of Journey Latin America, spoke to Wanderlust about the project: "although Aisén is a very big region and the dams are planned for the far south, the peripheral effects of it could extend far beyond the flooded wilderness and wildlife habitats."

"No one wants to see lorries thundering up and down the Austral road with workers and building supplies, bringing pollution and unwanted changes to the way people live," he added.

"It's possible to envisage Aisén will remain a special place to travel even if the dam goes ahead, but that would be missing the point: which is that this is one of the last completely untouched and pristine areas of wilderness left. Aisén is a global treasure. This is why people want to come here. For any of it to be disturbed represents an irreversible loss," concluded David.

All seven appeals put forward by environmental groups have been rejected; each expressed concern over damage that could be inflicted on the area's fragile ecosystems.

The projected inundation caused by the dams is believed to pose a great threat to the endangered Andean dear, the Huemul, as well as to locals who would be living downstream. There are also fears that the five dams could jeopardise tourism to the region.

Pro-dam campaigners argue it will provide much needed energy for Chile's growing economy. As a result, the Patagonia HidroAysen dam has caused much debate across the country, provoking many protests, some of which have been violent.

If the government approves the construction, building work could begin as soon as 2014. The project could be completed in ten years.

Thousands of travellers flock to Patagonia every year to see its famous and unspoilt landscapes of glaciers, ice-fields, razor-sharp mountains and fjords.

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