Report warns Turkey to meet certain conditions before allowing controversial dam

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Ilisu Dam has confirmed that an ancient city will be submerged and thousands of citizens displaced, and tells the Turkish Government to meet certain criteria before the controversial project can be approved.

The UK Government’s Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) had ordered an EIA, following widespread condemnation of the US$1.52 billion hydroelectric project (see related story), set to be Turkey’s biggest, which includes a 195 square mile (315 sq km) reservoir, near to the Iraqi and Syrian borders. The ECGD has made it clear that it will only underwrite finance for the project, which includes at least US$200 million in export credit guarantees for the British engineering firm, Balfour Beatty, if the Turkish Authorities are able to meet certain conditions in its construction plans, which aim to improve water shortage and infrastructure in the nation’s poorest and driest regions.

The main bones of contention addressed in the independent EIA are the extent to which the ancient town of Hasankeyf would be affected and the resettlement of many thousands of mainly Kurdish people living on the proposed reservoir site. The EIA acknowledges that the “area to be impacted comprises hundreds of archaeological sites documenting more than 100,000 years of human occupancy”, with the area the site of some of the “first permanent settlements”. It cites Hasankeyf as “a large site where remains testifying of the last 2,000 years of history may be found”, including mosques, palaces and mausoleums. “Some of these remains, which still have a great religious importance for local people, will be flooded by the reservoir.”

On the highly contentious issue of resettling up to 44,000 inhabitants, mostly Kurds, who have lived in the area for thousands of years, the report described Turkish policies as “similar to those of most Western countries and in some areas more generous”. It warned, however, that “the loss of traditional knowledge would be irretrievable”, but said a programme to document and preserve this was underway and should be conducted “throughout the entire construction period at least”.

Other questions concerning the impact of the project on local flora and fauna, the possibility of the new reservoir reducing the purification capacity of the important River Tigris and of possible disputes over resources with neighbouring Iraq and Syria appear to be satisfied by Turkish plans. The report says the land to be flooded is of “relatively low quality” compared to agricultural land to the north, new treatment plants are planned for polluting nearby cities and that water capacity could be increased for all dependent on the Tigris.

The EIA, together with the response of the Turkish authorities to the report’s recommendations, will form the basis for the decisions of Balfour Beatty and the Export Credit Agencies potentially involved in underwriting finance for Ilisu. The four conditions set for receiving ECGD support are:

  • a resettlement program which reflects internationally accepted practice and includes independent monitoring;
  • provision for upstream water treatment plants capable of ensuring that water quality is maintained;
  • assurance that adequate downstream water flows will be maintained at all times; and
  • a detailed plan to preserve as much of the archaeological heritage of Hasankeyf as possible.

Publication of the EIA also offers, for the first time, an opportunity for public comment, which can be submitted to [email protected] and must be received by the beginning of September.

Balfour Beatty, which is expected to withdraw from the project if the conditions are not satisfied, said that while it “is neither the promoter nor the proposer of the project, it is taking an active and responsible role in evaluating, with other parties, the environmental and social impacts of the project in order that appropriate decisions can be taken”. But the Turkish group, Ilisu Dam Campaign, and the environmental group Friends of the Earth remain dissatisfied following the EIA’s release.

An Ilisu Dam Campaign fact-finding mission to the region since the EIA was carried out found that human rights abuses, including torture and suppression of freedom of speech were still occurring “on a phenomenal scale in the region”. It said it found human rights abuses directly associated with the dam, concluded that consultation with affected communities had been “grossly inadequate” and found evidence of falsification of questionnaire responses. “Attempts to save parts of Hasankeyf are totally inadequate, contravening international standards”, the group said, adding that the Turkish government has also renewed the State of Emergency covering the region.

“We will look very closely at the report to check that it accurately documents Turkey’s appalling record on resettlement in past dam projects and reports on continuing human rights abuses in the region,” commented Kerim Yildiz, Director of the Ilisu Dam Campaign. “Taking into account both of these factors will be key if the UK is to meet its obligations under international human rights law.”

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