Turkish Dam Criticism Fueled by Leaked Report

LONDON, UK, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - A planned hydroelectric dam project in southeastern Turkey will displace up to 78,000 people if international lending agencies and the British government provide financial support, according to a report leaked to British media.

According to the report by World Bank resettlement expert Dr. Ayse Kudat, the Ilisu dam planned for the Tigris River would force thousands more people to be displaced than the 25,000 the Turkish government originally estimated.

The report claims "a large number of people are potentially affected and their numbers cannot be estimated. ... They range between 47,000 and 78,000."

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Map showing the location of the proposed Ilisu Dam. (Map courtesy Ilisu Dam Project Campaign)
The report was commissioned by a consortium of export credit agencies that are considering financing the project.

Many critics of the dam say it would destroy the environment in a war torn region that has seen 16 years of conflict between the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Turkish government.

The government of the United Kingdom is a stakeholder as the Edinburgh based engineering firm of Balfour Beatty has asked for a government loan to support its bid to construct the dam.

The governments of Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the United States are all currently considering extending official export credits or guarantees of about $ 850 million to the Ilisu hydropower project in Turkey. Ilisu is at present the largest dam project in Turkey's pipeline.

It is located on the Tigris river in southeast Anatolia, 65 kilometres (40 miles) upstream of the Syrian and Iraqi border.

Critics say the dam may cut off up to half the flow of the river Tigris into Syria and Iraq, aggravating an already tense regional struggle over water.

The dam would submerge the 10,000 year old city of Hasankeyf and at least 68 other towns and villages, displace many thousands of mostly Kurdish people, and destroy ancient cultural treasures.

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The Tigris River runs through the medieval city of Hasankeyf (Photo courtesy Ilisu Dam Project Campaign)
Dr. Kudat's report identifies a list of problems with the project's proposed resettlement plan that would violate World Bank policy and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines.

Dr. Kudat mentioned as problems the lack of will or capacity in Turkey to handle resettlement issues, failure to meet international World Bank standards, inadequate budget, lack of necessary information on affected people, and the failure to address the needs of women and pastoralists.

A report in July by the International Development Select Committee of the British Parliament recommended that "relevant international criteria should be met BEFORE a proposal is agreed and cover sought. ... The Ilisu Dam was from the outset conceived and planned in contravention of international standards, and it still does not comply." Citing environmental and human rights concerns, the committee recommended that funding not be provided by the UK government for construction of the dam.

A UK Department of Trade and Industry spokesman said Wednesday that no decision has yet been taken on whether or not to provide funding for the project.

In the United States, the Export-Import Bank has a preliminary commitment of $100 million in loan guarantees to the engineering firm of Balfour Beatty to support this project.

Doug Norlen, policy director at Pacific Environment and Resources Center based in Oakland, California is lobbying to have the U.S. Export-Import Bank withdraw its interest in funding the dam. "This report clearly indicates that the Turkish government is in no position to fulfill even the rudimentary guidelines that Ex-Im Bank requires," says Norlen. "Ex-Im should abandon this sinking ship, before they drown in controversy at the same time Hasankeyf drowns under water."

Emilie Thenard of the Washington DC based Center for International Environmental Law, said, "Large scale involuntary resettlement has historically been a proven failure when done by the World Bank, and the leaked plan for Ilisu reveals a pending disaster. The report demonstrates that Ex-Im is about to exacerbate an already dismal human rights situation with the Kurds in Turkey."

A rockfill dam 1820 metres long and 135 metres high would create a reservoir with a maximum volume of 10.4 billion cubic metres and a surface area of 313 square kilometres. The Ilisu power station will have a capacity of 1,200 megawatts, and is expected to produce 3,800 gigawatts of power per year.

More information about the Ilisu Dam can be found at: http://www.hasankeyf.org/eng/links.htm