...in thinking

Resilience Engineered

Three films to demystify resilience, funded by The Resilience Shift, developed in collaboration with the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge.

Summary for Urban Policymakers

A summary for urban policymakers, presenting the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments in targeted summaries that can help inform action at the city scale.

Resilient Leadership

Real-time learning from the Covid crisis was captured over 16 weeks of interviews with senior leaders, providing insights into what makes resilient leadership, and how to lead for resilience.

...in practice

Infrastructure Pathways

A resource for practitioners in search of clear, easy-to-navigate guidance on climate-resilient infrastructure, compiled from hundreds of leading resources, and organized by lifecycle phase.


Diagram of a working port


A multi-stakeholder, whole-systems approach is needed for ports to become low carbon resilient gateways to growth, as a meeting point of critical infrastructure systems, cities and services.


Resilience Realized

The Resilience Realized Awards recognise projects around the world at the cutting edge of resilience.

City Water Resilience Approach

CWI Wheel diagram


Download the step by step methodology to help cities collaboratively build resilience to local water challenges, mapped with the OurWater online governance tool, as used by cities around the world.

Itaipú Dam

How natural ecosystems support one of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams

Itaipú Dam

The Resilience Shift wants to share good work by others, in this case, one of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams, Itaipú Dam, and the natural ecosystems that regenerate its surroundings and increase its resilience to climate change. The case study focusses on the innovations used to enhance resilience of such infrastructure developments and does not present an exhaustive analysis of all aspects of the dam’s development. We acknowledge that, with hydropower infrastructure projects of this size, there are inevitable trade-offs for communities and the environments that should be carefully considered and weighed against the benefits of clean energy production. This is a story of the good resilience practice that Itaipú Dam has put in place since its construction.

Ariel Scheffer da Silva, Chief Executive of Itaipú Binaciona

Talking points

  • One of the world’s largest infrastructure projects, the vast Itaipú Dam is a modern wonder of the world. Natural ecosystems are crucial to the smooth operation of the hydropower plant.
  • To ensure the resilience of the dam, Itaipú Binacional has planted over 44 million trees in the company-owned area around the dam, reforesting, restoring and conserving 101,000 ha of land and 421 micro-watersheds.
  • The hydropower plant produces 90% of Paraguay’s electricity, and 16% of Brazil’s. The forests and natural ecosystems ensure low sediment levels in the reservoir, preventing damage to the giant turbines.
  • A cost-benefit analysis of the Itaipú Preserves program assessed that it provided a Net Present Value of US $45,000,000 based on direct financial benefits alone.1
  • Itaipú Dam is an inspiring example of how sustainable and resilient design solutions can be implemented at scale, conserving and regenerating the natural environment, managing the effects of climate change, and at the same time, demonstrating financial viability and delivering wider benefits to the communities and the environment.

Introduction and Context

Constructed in 1984, the Itaipú hydropower plant is one of the largest generators of renewable energy in the world, supplying 16% of Brazil’s electricity mix, and 90% of Paraguay’s2, making it a critically important energy source for both countries. From its inception, Itaipú Binacional, recognized that a healthy watershed was integral its operations, and to the well-being of the communities living along the Paraná river.

Watershed conservation and restoration have always been a central tenet of Itaipú Binacional’s business model, beginning even before the dam’s construction, and are still integral to the company’s strategic approach today. As a result, Itaipú has become the most efficient hydropower plant in South America, per cubic meter of water.

The project demonstrates how unified governance can lead to effective resilience outcomes for infrastructure development. In April 1973, the Treaty of Itaipú was created between Brazil and Paraguay to act as the legal instrument for the exploitation of the hydroelectric potential of the Paraná River. In 1974, Itaipú Binacional was created as a company that had the mandate of both countries to administer the plant's construction. The project is a great example of how cross-border co-operation and natural resource management can provide sustainable services using nature-based solutions.

Beginning in the 1970’s Itaipú Binacional pioneered a series of watershed restoration programs, including forest protection, re-forestation, and improved land management practices, to create a long-term sustainable solution to secure a reliable and low-sediment flow of water for hydropower production, whilst also delivering a broader range of social and environmental co-benefits to the communities and biodiversity living along the Paraná River. In 2020, a UNEP and IDB cost-benefit analysis of the Itaipú Preserves program and calculated a Net Present Value of US $45,000,000 based on direct financial benefits to the dam’s operators alone.3

Itaipú Binacional takes a whole-system approach to watershed management which has delivered enhanced water supply for hydropower production, alongside a range of social and environmental co-benefits to the communities living along the Paraná river. These efforts have helped to reconstitute the conventional narrative that ecosystem conservation is at odds with economic development. It also shows how, by working with local communities and other local stakeholders, projects can be developed sustainably. Itaipú Binacional’s efforts include planting over 44 million trees in the company-owned area around the dam, reforesting, restoring, and conserving 101,000 ha of land and 421 micro-watersheds and restoring 1,600 km of rural roads.4

Itaipú has established itself as a global leader and inspiration for hydropower producers and other water-dependent industries, worldwide. In 2015, Itaipú Binacional received UN-Water’s Water for Life Award for best practices in water management.5

The Paraná watershed upstream of the Itaipú dam
The Paraná watershed upstream of the Itaipú dam. Source: Saenz, L., 2017.

A modern wonder

Designated as one of the seven wonders of the modern world,6 the dam reaches the height of a 65-story building. The amount of iron and steel used in the dam’s construction could build 380 Eiffel Towers.7 The 2.6 million tonnes of iron and steel and 12.3 million cubic meters of concrete used to create the dam has a carbon footprint somewhere in the region of 11 million tonnes of CO2e.i Whilst this undoubtedly makes the dam’s embedded CO2 levels very high, Itaipú has since generated over 2.6 billion-Megawatt hours (MWh)ii of electricity. The median lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of large hydropower plants is approximately 18.5 gCO2e/kWh, compared with 820 gCO2e/kWh for coal and 490 gCO2e/kWh for gas.iii

Such is the scale of the dam, that Itaipú inspired the American composer, Philip Glass to create an opera of the same name (‘Singing Stone’ in English) in the language of the indigenous Guarani People.8

i Calculated as 2.3 tonnes of CO2e per tonne of steel as per OECD (2019) plus 0.41 tonnes of CO2e per m3 of structural grade concrete as per A. Samarin (7 September 1999) in Ravindra K. Dhir, Trevor G. Jappy.

ii Itaipú Binacional (2020) https://www.itaipu.gov.br/en/energy/energy

iii IPCC (2014) / IHA (2018) 2018 Hydropower Status Report: https://www.hydropower.org/news/study-shows-hydropower%E2%80%99s-carbon-footprint

The Itaipú Dam at night Source: Itaipu Binacional

The dam is a modern technological wonder situated in an ecologically significant area, and yet the two are intimately intertwined. Without a reliable and clean source of water, the hydropower dam cannot produce energy and would cease to remain viable. Deforestation and unsustainable land management practices upstream of the reservoir and along the Paraná river, reduces water quality and increases sedimentation in the waterways, creating unreliable flows and poor water quality for hydropower production.

Following an outcomes-led approach, Itaipú Binacional recognized early on that the protection of existing forests along the reservoir, and the reforestation of degraded lands, alongside improved land management practices, was essential to enhance water quality, and ensure the longevity of the dam. These nature-based solution would also be more sustainable, resilient, and cost effective than copious amounts of dredging. Hence in 1975, preceding the dam’s construction, Itaipú Binacional developed a road map for planned conservation and restoration activities and projects: the Basic Plan for Conservation of the Environment. Itaipú acquired an area larger than 235,500 ha across Brazil and Paraguay, of which 135,000 ha would be used for the reservoir, and over 100,000 ha would be allocated for forest restoration and conversation purposes.9

As a multi-billion dollar bi-national enterprise, Itaipú Binacional could secure partnerships and mobilize resources for large-scale watershed restoration efforts that would protect and restore ecologically important areas, while supporting local and indigenous communities. To date, Itaipú Binacional has planted over 44 million trees in the company-owned area around the dam, and reforested, restored, and conserved 101,000 ha of publicly and privately-owned land.

The history of the dam

Itaipú - The Power of Two Peoples, a video from Itaipú Binacional

Sedimentation in the reservoir

Sediment flow into rivers and blocking dams is a major challenge in Latin American watersheds. Sedimentation affects dam safety, storage and discharge capacity, reduces energy production potential, and flood attenuation capabilities.11 In the Paraná watershed, sedimentation is largely driven by deforestation for agriculture, and poor land management practices, which causes soil exposure and erosion.

Deforestation can dramatically increase the rate at which sediment moves into rivers, thereby increasing sediment loads above natural levels. Deforestation also increases the speed of water run-off in the Paraná River and its tributaries, increasing peak flows (and sediment loads) during the rainy season, and reducing river flows during the dry season. Sedimentation and variable river flow, coupled with variable precipitation patterns driven by climate change, reduces the overall water supply and quality available for hydropower production.

In the decades prior to the Itaipú dam construction, large swathes of native forest on the Brazilian side of the Paraná river were cleared for corn and soy plantations, farms, towns, and meat-packing facilities. Still, today, the communities of the Paraná River Basin are heavily dedicated to agriculture, in particular, corn and soybean, and livestock and poultry production. Agricultural runoff containing pesticides and animal excrement accumulates in the tributaries and eventually flows downstream into the reservoir. This contributes to lake eutrophication, which decreases the useful lifespan of the reservoir. Water quality is further negatively impacted by sewage and garbage disposal in or near the watershed, and sedimentation associated with rural roads.12

Watershed restoration for clean water

In the planning stages of the Itaipú dam, the project team recognized that sediment blockage and unreliable flows during periods of dry weather would pose significant challenges to the dam’s efficient functioning and performance. Sediment could potentially be removed from the reservoirs through dredging, yet this activity is expensive, environmentally harmful, and would have to be completed at a large scale and at regular intervals.

This was simply unsustainable. Itaipú Binacional followed an outcomes-led approach which recognised that the forests and soils could provide an essential service. Restoring forests, in particular in a belt along the river, and changing approaches to conventional land management practices that impact water quality, these nature-based solutions could provide water regulation and sediment control services to support the dam’s longevity in a way that would be sustainable with some maintenance.

Forests offer a number of important water-related services. They reduce the rate of sedimentation, and can store substantial amounts of water, (e.g. rainfall stored as groundwater) protecting local catchments through gradual release and helping to regulate water flow. By virtue of their vast root systems, trees can help to stabilize soil, helping to control soil erosion, and can purify and filter water of contaminants.13 Once in place, nature-based solutions, like using forests for regulating water flow and quality, will continue to provide their services until they are removed. This type sustainable service provision, when well designed, often requires little to no maintenance. Crucially, for the Itaipú dam, the services that are provided by nature are simply not able to be replicated by other engineered solutions. The sustainable solution can be quickly increase in scale, and provides many other additional benefits, including helping the dam become more resilient to changing climatic conditions and the influence that has on the rate of water flow.

Sedimentation in the Itiapu dam
Reforestation efforts focused on the ‘strip’ or ‘buffer’ surrounding the Itaipú reservoir Source: Itaipú Binacional

Jimmy Melgarejo, Head of the Environmental Action Division at Itaipú Preserves, speaks of the importance of the reforestation projects for extending the life of the Itaipú Dam.

Strengthening ecosystems to increase resilience

Since the 1970’s Itaipú Binacional has pioneered a series of watershed restoration programs aimed at reducing sediment loads, reducing erosion, regulating water flow and encouraging natural filtration, while generating broader co-benefits. The participatory programs have engaged with 54 municipalities in the state of Paraná, Brazil, 1 municipality in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil and 15 municipalities in Paraguay, totalling nearly 1.7 million people.14 The extensive involvement of local communities has helped to deepen the understanding of the importance of natural ecosystems to support vital services, and has helped to transfer this knowledge widely amongst local communities. This has ensures that the initiatives actioned today continue to receive support and sustainable actions continue to be practiced by the local community. Table 1 describes the programs carried out to date.

Two initiatives; Cultivating Good Water on the Brazilian side, and Itaipú Preserves on the Paraguayan side, have been particularly successful in enhancing water quality while delivering multiple additional social and environmental co-benefits in a sustainable manner.

Reforestation initiatives associated with Itaipú Dam

Description of Watershed Restoration programs Year
Reforestation on the Brazilian side of the watershed (prior to the Itaipú Dam completion) 1979–1981
Designating forest shelters and reserves (Brazil and Paraguay) 1984
Designating additional protected areas on the Paraguayan side of the watershed 2008–2014
Cultivating Good Water (Cultivando Agua Boa) – working with local communities to conserve and restore forest buffers along tributaries of the Paraná in Brazil 2003–2017
Paraguay Biodiversidad (Paraguay Biodiversity) – creating habitat corridors to link remaining areas of natural forest in Paraguay 2011–2017
Itaipú Preserves (Itaipú Preserves) – restoring degraded land in a ‘protection strip’ of forest surrounding the reservoir in Paraguay 2014–2019

Source: IDB, UNEP, WCMC, Acclimatise (2020)

Cultivating Good Water

A video from Itaipu Binacional

Cultivating Good Water

Cultivating Good Water is a fifteen-year programme that involves a series of sub-programs and initiatives aimed at improving water quality and flows in the Paraná watershed, while achieving a broader range of social and environmental goals including food security, poverty alleviation, health and sanitation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and biodiversity support.

Cultivating Good Water primarily targets land-based activities that are detrimental to water quality and flows, and offers education, technical assistance, technological innovation, and employment opportunities to improve sustainable land management practices. The program relies on extensive collaboration and cooperation with thousands of partners including municipalities, NGO’s, universities, companies, farmers to structure multi-objective programs, demonstrating the importance of unified governance across all levels of the project. While Cultivating Good Water concluded in 2017, its concepts and methodologies continue to be carried out under the Watershed Management Program. The priority areas of the program included agriculture, roads, reforestation and waste management.

“Water is an integral input to Itaipú’s business. Water comes not only from rain but from the broader cycle which involves soils, forest, micro and macro climates and more. We are therefore not just concerned with ‘water’ but with the entire ecosystem process”

- Mr. Ariel Scheffer da Silva, head of Environmental Management of Itaipú - Brazil.

Reforestation diagram


Cultivating Good Water prioritized creating conservation reserves and restoring riparian forests with native species along the margins or strips of the watershed. The efforts focused on constructing 30-meter-wide green belts to protect the river and reservoir from soil erosion, and creating a network of biodiversity corridors linking forested areas along the Paraná river. This corridor linked the margins around the reservoir to two ecologically significant areas that were previously fragmented; Iguaçu National Park and the Ilha Grande National Park. As much of the land along the watershed was privately owned, Itaipú Binacional engaged with 42 private landowners and farmers who agree to lease part of their lands for reforestation. In recognition of the important effort made by farmers that offered their land to create the corridor, it was named the Santa Maria Biodiversity Corridor after the Santa Maria farm which contributed a significant area of preserved Atlantic forest.16

A tree nursery growing native tree species for Itaipú’s reforestation projects. Source: Itaipú Binacional



Cultivating Good Water supports local farmers along the Paraná in recovering micro watersheds through terracing and no-till farming practices. It supports small scale farmers to transition to organic production and rotate and diversify crops, by offering technical support, education and capacity building.

The free program helps farmers to access new markets and commercialize organic produce, thereby helping to compensate for potential economic losses associated with taking land out of production.17 Public schools in the region are the primary consumer of organic produce, in addition to local markets and supermarkets. Approximately 1200 farms have converted to organic production and organized a series of broader cooperatives and associations. The reduction of harmful pesticides and soil erosion control with appropriate tilling and terracing techniques, reduces the agricultural runoff and contaminants entering the Paraná river, ultimately resulting in a cleaner source of water downstream.18

Given the strong local dependence on livestock and poultry production, Itaipú Binacional in partnership with 26 institutions, created a biogas technology that transforms livestock waste into energy. This technology has been deployed on several farms in Itaipú’s area of influence. Biomass electricity generation consists of using biogas released by decomposing organic matter (e.g. livestock excrements) in biodigesters to drive motor generation. The farms can use the energy produced by the biogas technology to operate their farms and high-quality biofertilizers are created as a bi-product of the process. This technology reduces or eliminates the amount of livestock excrement that leaches into soils and waterways, while contributing to greenhouse gas mitigation.19

Waste management diagram

Waste management

Cultivating Good Water launched a program to reduce waste in 56 Brazilian municipalities in the state of Paraná with a recycling program for paper, plastic, and metals. The program involved the construction of recycling sorting sheds equipped with compressors and packaging equipment, electric carts for recycling collection, hiring unskilled workers to collect and sort recycling and education and technical assistance to the community for recycling and waste management practices. The program reduces the amount of recycled waste that would otherwise end up in landfills, or dumped into the Paraná.20


The program also prioritized the re-design of existing rural roads and the construction of new roads with permeable materials (e.g. stones, gravel) that are slightly raised, allow water to filter through, and do not channel water during rainstorms. This improves road usability during periods of heavy rainfall and reduces the rate of sediment transport into Paraná tributaries. This demonstrates the interdependency of the dam with other infrastructure systems, an important reason for taking a whole systems approach to managing infrastructure assets.21

Itaipú Preserves: recovering degraded areas with native forest species in the buffer zone

Itaipú Preserves is a six-and-a-half-year program (2014-2022) with the goal of restoring degraded land on the Paraguayan strip of land surrounding the reservoir. It is the largest reforestation initiative in Paraguay, and covers an extensive territory stretching from Hernandarias to Saltos del Guaira, a total linear distance of 1,524 km.22 Restoration activities are focused on 1,900 ha of degraded land, and an additional 409 hectares set aside for management and natural regeneration, covering a total area of 2,309 ha.23 Similar to Cultivating Good Water, the program creates and enhances biodiversity corridors in the strip around the reservoirs where they were previously disconnected.24

Paraguay Biodiversidad is another initiative in Paraguay that engages with indigenous peoples, rural agricultural producers, and NGO’s to restore and conserve sections of the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest Watershed. This program also focuses on linking the biodiversity corridor of the Atlantic Forest Watershed, with the Western region of Paraguay, thereby creating stronger linkages for wildlife.

Gustavo José Ovelar Rojas provides details about the Itaipú Preserves project.

CBA numbers


Since its inception, Itaipú Binacional has maintained budget for ecological and social programs deemed critical to the dam’s operations and to Itaipú Binacional’s mission. The programs are funded internally, with financial and implementation support from a range of external actors. As the programs serve the community and the broader ecosystem, cost-sharing with other beneficiaries is an important way to scale up projects. For example, Cultivating Good Water was led by Itaipú Binacional with implementation support from hundreds of organizations including governments, city administrators, NGOs, farmers, schools, community associations, businesses and others. Itaipú Binacional funded about 1/3 of the project (about US $8 million in 2007) through its annual budget for Coordinator and Administration. A further 1/3 was funded by municipalities and the remaining 1/3 was funded by communities and farmers.25 This cross-community governance has helped sustain the programme in the long term, creating buy-in from all the necessary stakeholders. The Itaipú Preserves program will cost an estimated US $9 million over the project timeline (2014-2022).

Cost-benefit Analysis

A UNEP and IDB (2020) report presents a cost-benefit analysis (CbA) of the Itaipú Preserves program and calculates a Net Present Value (NPV) of US $45,000,000 based on direct financial benefits alone.

The CbA compares all the costs associated with implementing the Itaipú Preserves Project (e.g. trees, labor, monitoring, maintenance) from 2014 to 2022 against the avoided costs that they would have otherwise paid for dredging. This is further compared against the benefits of watershed restoration activities, including increased capacity for electricity generation as a result of an enhanced water supply. In other words, if Itaipú Binacional had not implemented the forest restoration project they would have paid extra costs for dredging and would have experienced reduced electricity generation capacity, and therefore revenue. The project cost US $9 million and the NPV calculation was made based on length of time that the forests will support the dam, which is calculated as 184 years (the remaining lifecycle of the dam from 2014 onwards).

Beyond the direct economic benefit to Itaipú Binacional, the restoration initiatives provide a range of broader co-benefits (described in table 2). While these benefits are not calculated in the CbA, they do provide economic benefit to the community and potentially for Itaipú. Some of these benefits could also be monetized, for example carbon sequestration could be monetized through

Ecosystem services provided by Itaipú’s watershed restoration programs

Co-benefit Description of benefits provided by the Itaipú Preserves Program Scale
Employment opportunities and poverty alleviation The Itaipú Preserves program alone has offered direct employment for 250 and indirect employment for 500 local people. Local
Climate adaptation The reforested protection strip provides a buffer against local climate extremes, for example high winds and storms, and the river and reservoir provides flood mitigation services Local
Air quality Forests filter out pollutants, improving local air quality Local
Education The program has contributed to raising awareness in local communities about the value of forests and the benefits that they can receive from restoring and protecting them. Local
Biodiversity conservation The reforested biodiversity corridors allow for the genetic flow of fauna and flora. In years prior deforestation created fragmented areas, limiting the habitat of critically important species (e.g. jaguar, tapirs). This provides direct biodiversity benefits and has cultural value on a local and global scale.

Importantly, Itaipú Binacional has invested in protecting the remainder of the Upper Parana Atlantic forest which is one of the world’s 25 biodiversity hotspots.

Local - Global
Water quality The protection strip reduces soil erosion and agricultural run-off, improving water quality for biodiversity and downstream users. Regional
Global climate regulation Itaipú Binacional’s total reforestation and conservation efforts on 101,000 ha capture 5.9 million tons of CO2 equivalent captured each year, which contributes to climate change mitigation Global

Source: IDB, UNEP, WCMC, Acclimatise (2020)



Sustaining the remote ecosystems of the Paraná watershed

The Paraná watershed is vast and remote, spanning 38,000 km2 over two countries, Brazil and Paraguay. Whilst this is a large area with great potential for investment in nature-based solutions (including the potential for restored plots to recover and even earn more than their restoration costs through carbon trading), only 101,000 ha of protected areas (1,010 km2) are decentralized within the lower parts of the watershed that directly feed into the reservoir. There are logistical challenges associated with accessing sites. Access is need in order to monitor sites (assessing indicators for natural land regeneration and vegetation cover in order to establish that the areas are becoming self-sustaining from an ecological perspective), and enforcement of the protected areas.26

At present Itaipú Binacional’s watershed restoration efforts focus on the tributaries that directly feed into the reservoir, in a small region of Paraguay, the Brazilian state of Paraná, and one municipality in the Brazilian state of Mato Grasso. In fact, only 18% of the total water is generated in the local catchment, with the remainder flowing from farther upstream.

Yet unsustainable land practices elsewhere in Brazil, can compromise the water quality entering the Paraná further upstream. The vast size of the watershed means that Itaipú Binacional has to prioritize its efforts on particular regions, and at present cannot cover the entire watershed. The operation of the dam is threatened by several external shocks and stressors, both human-driven and natural in their origin.

Combined pressures from human activity, invasive species, climate change and linked extreme events such as forest fires threaten the delicate ecosystems that provide invaluable services to the Itaipú Dam. The work of Itaipú Binacional in conserving and restoring the ecosystems around the dam and reservoir increase their resilience in order to deal with unexpected threats. “Big projects with national impact, such as Itaipú Binacional should manage uncertainty” explains Haroldo Silva, Forestry Engineer at Itaipú’s Environmental Action Division, “consider the current [COVID-19] pandemic for example, we were not fully prepared for this so it has been an additional cost, one must consider a wide range of possible scenarios and invest accordingly.”

Systemic shocks to the ongoing maintenance of the Itaipú Preserves project, as experienced during the current pandemic, may add additional cost to that programme, however the restored ecosystems continue to provide the water quality services to maintain the smooth operation of the dam itself, in spite of COVID-19. In this way, investments in ecosystem services can help manage uncertainty by creating an environment that supports the effective functioning of the asset, even in times of external threat to human systems.

Haroldo Silva, Forestry Engineer at Itaipú’s Environmental Action Division, explains some of the challenges faced by Itaipú Binacional in maintaining the huge ecosystem projects, in the face of emerging threats from climate change and COVID-19.

Human activity

Human activities such as forest fires, dumping materials, illegal grazing of livestock, deforestation hunting and fishing, are harmful to water quality improvements. Deforestation of primary forest throughout the watershed, driven primarily by agricultural expansion is an ongoing threat to the well-being of the Paraná river and the reservoir. While communities recognize the benefits of restoring degraded agricultural lands (that serve no other purpose), there is less incentive to curb expansion into remaining native forests where lands are fertile for agricultural use.

Invasive species

The spread of invasive species (e.g. exotic grasses), pest outbreaks and extreme weather events, can further compromise watershed restoration efforts. On the Paraguayan side, small and medium sized farmers struggle to find efficient ways to control invasive alien species without the use of harsh chemicals that would ultimately enter the waterways.

Challenges engaging with community members

Some of the land along the Paraná river and its tributaries is privately owned by smallholders. Farmers perceive that land taken out of production for reforestation efforts results in economic losses, particularly in the short-term. Further, the smallholder suffers the direct loss of land, while the benefits are diffuse and accrue to everyone.

Restoration benefits also accrue over longer time-scales. While Itaipú Binacional and its partners bear the initial restoration costs, there are minimal benefits in the short-term. Trees and forests require years to mature and offer the full range of services, and require maintenance in the early years until the trees become self-maintaining.  As a result, reforestation efforts have been met with some local resistance, particularly out of concern of a large enterprise seizing land from smallholders.27

Raising awareness

Itaipú Binacional has led many activities to enhance awareness about changing customary land management practices to improve water quality, eliminate waste, and minimize agrochemical release into the soil and waterways. This has also included tackling conventional perceptions in the region that land restoration and conservation is at odds with economic development.28 Itaipú has experienced some resistance from community members in regard to changing current land management practices. As local communities must have a stake in the project in order for it to succeed, Itaipú Binacional encourages active participation and tries to build a sense of ownership among community members.

Despite its achievements, Itaipú Binacional’s influence extends to the local catchment, a small section of the much larger tributaries that flow into the reservoir. Poor land management and agricultural expansion farther upstream, are resulting in a net forest loss overall and consequently reduced water quality.29 Therefore, it is Itaipú Binacional’s imperative to scale these efforts farther upstream and in other states in Brazil, to improve the health of the watershed.

While there is more work to be done, the trailblazing efforts pioneered by Itaipú Binacional have succeeded in enhancing resilience through by applying approaches consistent with sustainable development, not only for the hydropower asset itself, but for the communities and ecosystems in the broader area of influence.


1 UNEP and IDB (2020) report (forthcoming)

2 Itaipú Binacional. 2020. Frequently Asked Questions.

3 UNEP and IDB (2020) report (forthcoming)

4 Itaipú Binacional. 2020. Frequently Asked Questions.

5 Itaipú Binacional. 2020. Awards.

6 Pope, Gregory T. (December 1995), "The seven wonders of the modern world", Popular Mechanics, pp. 48–56,

7 Itaipú Binacional. 2020. Comparisons.

8 UMASS Boston. N.D. Itaipú Hydroelectric Power Project, Brazil and Paraguay.

9 Itaipú Binacional & UNDESA. 2020. SDG 13: Climate Action. Take Urgent Action to Combat Climate Change and its Impacts.

10 Itaipú Binacional. 2020. Frequently Asked Questions.

11 Hydrovision International. 2017. Dealing with Sediment: Effects on Dams and Hydropower.

12 Fernandez, P.C. 2015. Itaipú Powerplant and the ‘Cultivating Good Water’ Program. Technical Report.

13 Ellison, D., C. E. Morris, B. Locatelli, D. Sheil, J. Cohen, D. Murdiyarso, V. Gutierrez, M. van Noordwijk, I. F. Creed, J. Pokorny, D. Gaveau, D. V. Spracklen, A. B. Tobella, U. Ilstedt, A. J. Teuling, S. Gebreyohannis Gebrehiwot, D. C. Sands, B. Muys, B. Verbist, E. Springgay, Y. Sugandi, and C. A. Sullivan. 2017. Trees, Forests and Water: Cool Insights for a Hot World. Global Environmental Change 43 March: 51–61.

14 PNUD. 2018. Panorama ODS: Oeste do Parana em numeros. Brasilia, Brasilia: Grafs. Color.Direccion General de Encuestas, Estadisticas y Censos. 2018. Proyecciones de población nacional, areas urbana y rural, por sexo y edad.

15 Ceurvels, M. 2013. Summary – Cultivating Good Water: A Closer Look at Itaipú Binacional’s Sustainable Projects. Americas Society Council of the America.


16 IDB et al. 2020. Increasing Private Sector Uptake of Nature-based Solutions for Climate-resilient Infrastructure. Annex B: NbS Case Studies in Latin America and the Caribbean.

17 Ibid.

18 Itaipú Binacional & UNDESA. 2020. SDG 2: Zero Hunger. End Hunger, Achieve Food Security and Improved Nutrition and Promote Sustainable Agriculture.

19 Itaipú Binacional & UNDESA. 2020. SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. Ensuring Access to Affordable, Reliable, Sustainable and Modern Energy for all.

20 Itaipú Binacional & UNDESA. 2020. SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

21 IDB, UNEP, Acclimatise, UNEP WCMC. 2020. Increasing Private Sector Uptake of Nature-based Solutions, Annex B.

22 Itaipú Binacional & UNDESA. 2020. SDG 15 Life on Land. Protect, Restore and Promote Sustainable Use of Terrestrial Ecosystems, Sustainably Manage Forests, Combat Desertification, Halt and Reverse Land Degradation and Halt Biodiversity Loss.

Itaipú Binacional & UNDESA. 2020. SDG 13: Climate Action. Take Urgent Action to Combat Climate Change and its Impacts.

23 Itaipú Binacional & UNDESA. 2020. SDG 15 Life on Land. Protect, Restore and Promote Sustainable Use of Terrestrial Ecosystems, Sustainably Manage Forests, Combat Desertification, Halt and Reverse Land Degradation and Halt Biodiversity Loss.

24 Itaipú Binacional. 2014. Proyecto Itaipú Preserva.

25 Itaipú Binacional. 2014. Cultivating Good Water Expands results in 2007.

26 Itaipú Binacional & UNDESA. 2020. SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Ensuring Availability and Sustainable Management of Water and Sanitation.

27 IDB et al. 2020. Increasing Private Sector Uptake of Nature-based Solutions, Annex B.

28 Fernandez, P.C. 2015. Itaipú Powerplant and the ‘Cultivating Good Water’ Program. Technical Report.

29 Saenz, L. 2017. Assessing Impacts of Deforestation in Itaipú’s Dam Watershed in Paraguay.

Da Ponte, E. et al .2017. Forest cover loss in Paraguay and perception of ecosystem services: A case study of the Upper Parana Forest. Ecosystem Services 24, 200-212.