Turkish Dam can add fuel to Middle East fire and submerge heritage town!

Turkey’s largest hydropower project, the Ilisu dam  on the Tigris has the potential of increasing political conflicts with its neighbours apart from destroying ancient historical sites. 

The Turkish government recently has decided to proceed with the completion of the project after it was halted in August 2014. The controversial project, on the Tigris, 65 km upstream of the Syrian and Iraqi border, ran into trouble with the Kurdish militant group, the People’s Defending Forces who abducted contractors working on the dam leading to the resignation of all workers in the dam project. The Turkish State Hydraulic Works recently announced that they will be restarting the work at the damsite under Turkish army protection to finish the remaining 20 % of the work.

Ilisu dam nestled in conflict zone ©Numerus Klausus/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikimedia Commons

The dam project has been controversial right from its initiation and according to International Rivers, it will displace up to 70,000 people, drown the 10,000 year-old city of Hasankeyf, including destroying valuable biodiversity. The Iraqi government expressed concerns that Turkey will use the dam to control flow of the Tigris. The Turkish Foreign ministry websiteattempts to allay the concerns and justify the need of the project for economic development. It informs that “River water flowing into Iraq and Syria will not be polluted because the use of water for hydropower is non-polluting”. Ercan Ayboga, from the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive, says that “In the regional context all affected local authorities expressed since 2006 that they do not want the Dam Project. However, the central government started to build this dam”.

The major investors and companies involved in the project are European. Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive rues that European states keep promoting disastrous projects in other parts of the world, which is unthinkable within Europe. Due to the numerous controversies and concerns, including political, in 2009, investors and companies from Germany, Switzerland and Austria withdrew from the project; but the project still continues to have other investors.

The dam will create a reservoir with a maximum volume of 10.4 billion cubic meters and a surface area of 313 square kilometers and will be able to generate 3,800 GWh of power per year. Almost 80 % of the work is complete which has resulted in the displacement of many people who have been rehabilitated in the region.

A recent visit to the dam site in mid-November 2014 by Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive found that resettled people from Ilisu village have poor living conditions. “They are in debt because the new houses are expensive than the old ones. They used to have some job opportunities during the construction period, but now they do not know how to earn money”. Income opportunities are minimal because they do not own land anymore in their neighbourhood. Today almost nobody from Ilisu consider the  Dam as a positive investment.

Tigres and the Ilisu Dam site, Turkey ©Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive



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