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libralady 05 Jul 2009

The Ilisu Dam Project

I previously wrote an article about this dam and the town of Hasankeyf. I have been able to obtain more information and this is the up-dated situation of the dam project.


The Ilisu Dam, its reservoir and hydro-electric power plant would be built on the River Tigris in Southeast Turkey, approximately 65km from the Syrian border.  It is said that if built it would displace some 78,000[1] men, women and children, mostly of who are Kurdish.  It would flood some 68 villages and destroy homes, livelihoods, way of life and cultural roots.  It would also deprive communities downstream in Syria and Iraq of water, cause environmental problems and as written about in the first article, destroy the historic city of Hasankeyf, a site of valuable historical, cultural and archaeological importance.

Part of a network , the Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP is the Turkish acronym), of 22 dams and 19 power plants, this project would be the largest of them all costing around $2b to construct (2007 prices).  Financial backing was sought from Export Credit Agencies (ECA’s) when the World Bank declined to become involved because of the number of ethical concerns it had with the GAP project.

Gap was founded in 1977 and plans for Ilisu were approved by the Turkish government in 1982.  The plans were shelved due to recurring conflicts in the area, but again revived in the late 1990’s. As mentioned in the previous article, an international consortium led by a Swiss company with others in the consortium from the UK, Italy and Sweden.

GAP and the aim

“The GAP is a regional development project with its international brand which aims at improving the income level and life quality of people living in the region by mobilizing resources in Southeastern Anatolia, eliminating development disparities between this region and other regions of the country and thus contributing the targets of economic growth and social stability at national level”.


Source: http://www.gap.gov.tr/English/Genel/eylem812.pdf


The extent of the GAP Project across 9 provinces

The project attracted much criticism from environmentalist, archaeologists and human rights groups because of the damaging effects on these areas and was again shelved in 2002 when the consortium withdrew citing the State water agency’s failure to meet criteria established by the ECA’s (Export Credit Agencies).  The criteria required Turkey to develop a resettlement plan and plans to preserve the archaeological heritage of Hasankeyf.

Why the Dam?

Well as one would expect, the main motivation behind the dam is claimed to be economic, quoting energy harvesting and better irrigated farmland; sustainable development of the economy, environment and society as a whole.  But this is debateable with the experience of current dams not achieving economic growth as planned.  Socially this wider GAP project is part of a programme of assimilation of Kurds into mainstream Turkish culture with a goal quoted on the GAP website “to reinstate civilisation to the Upper Mesopotamia” with the charity group Kurdish Human Rights Project claiming,

this demonstrates the Turkish governments’ refusal to recognize Kurdish heritage as valuable”

Impacts of the Dam

There are many impacts from creating the Ilisu dam and in particular, environmental concerns such as damage to the ecosystem and biodiversity of the region.  There are the social and economic impacts with the resettlement of 10’s of thousands of people, resulting in possible increases in unemployment and family breakups due to disbursement.  The issue of compensation is also a thorny one.  There is the archaeological and heritage of the area; steeped in history that would be lost.  There are also the political aspects to consider.  Taking each impact separately:


The Swiss university, ETH Zurich, claims that the Environmental Impact Assessment Report submitted by Turkey does not meet the requirements of the EU Directive, Environmental Impact Assessment with which Turkey must comply.  Defined in Article 4 and all projects listed in Annex I of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive are subject to providing the Assessment.  The World Bank also has its own impact assessment standards.

The purpose of the directive is expressed in article 2 and is a project which is:

likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue, inter alia, of their nature, size or location are made subject to a requirement for development consent and an assessment with regard to their effects[2].

The impact assessment does not assess the environmental impacts of the dam and its effect upstream in Syria and Iraq. At the time of the 2007 briefing paper by KHRP (The Campaign group based in the UK), Syria and Iraq had not been informed of the project therefore unaware of any negative impacts the project may have.  The Tigris is some 1100km long, emerges in Turkey, originally as the River Dilce, flows along the Turkish / Syrian Border into Iraq and joins the Euphrates north west of Basra, with several dams already constructed along its path to control flooding.  It is a commercially very important river so it makes sense that the impacts in its other countries should be considered.

As the dam is primarily to create energy and not to control the flow along the Tigris, the new dam could create a decrease in water which may cause the soil downstream to become salinated[3] or erode.  The water could become less oxygenated, which in turn cause eutrophication and anoxic conditions[4]  leading to an increase in conditions that create a breading ground for malarial carrying insects, in an area which is already seeing an increase in case of malaria.  Although the risks are said to be low, if you travel to this area, you should be taking anti-malaria medication.

Fish and riparian systems of vegetation will also be affected and impact on the river ecosystems of the Tigris and its tributaries.  A loss of fish upstream will mean a decrease in income whose livelihoods depend on fishing as a living.

Social Impacts

Despite there being resettlement and compensation plans RAP (Resettlement Action Plan), they are considered to be weak by the ECAs (Export Credit Agencies) that were approached to provide backing for the project.  Weaknesses are such that local communities have not been consulted sufficiently which violates the World Bank standards to which the ECSs are committed.  Population figures already mentioned are subject to debate with the figure stated anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000, which do not account for population growth.

Land ownership is another debatable issue as many of the farmers in the area do not own the land, but are in fact tenants and would be the ones to suffer through not receiving compensation.  This displacement of farmers would impact upon nearby cities and towns, already burdened with those displaced by conflict.  Women and children are those that would be the hardest hit as women generally do not own any property.

Archaeological / Cultural Issues

Hasankeyf is a first degree Archaeological Conservation site and the Ilisu Dam would destroy this ancient town.  (As discussed in the first article).  Any intervention must first be approved by the Diyarbakir Board for Conservation of Cultural and National Assets and at the time of the report by the KHRP this had not taken place.

As part of the EU accession process, Turkey has ratified the 1992 European Convention on the Protection of Architectural Heritage which in effect state that archaeological assets are non-renewable resources that should remain in situ.  There are some plans to move parts of the city to safety but experts doubt this is possible without destroying the monuments.  Because no thorough archaeological survey has been carried out, experts believe there are connections yet to be discovered of to the Neanderthals and modern man.  One might think that this is becoming melodramatic, but once the dam is constructed and the reservoir flooded, then all possibilities of any discoveries would be lost.

Hasankeyf has been placed on the World Monuments Fund on its 100 most endangered sites list in 2008, hoping that the listing will bring the Ilisu Dam project to the attention of the Ilisu consortium, in an attempt that a more sympathetic view should be taken of this site of exceptional cultural and archaeological importance.

Political Issues

This project is a political hot potato as it crosses international borders, with Syria and Iraq.  There is potential for “water wars” increasing tension between the countries.  It would not be the first time that tensions have been at such a point, when Turkey used its dams to stop water flow into Iraq in 1990.  Iraq then threatened to bomb the dams in return, which should such an occurrence take place, be disastrous for all civilians involved.

The final terms of reference for the Ilisu project require a flow of 60 cubic meters per second; this is at Ilisu not at the border, where the flow could end up being much less.  This would result in similar environmental problems for Syria and Iraq upstream, as for the downstream Turkish farmers.  There are also internal political tensions and conflict in the area, which the dam could potentially aggravate.


Whilst most of the above appears to be rather one sided and negative, there is a paucity of data and information that supports the Ilisu project. Even Wikipedia reports that some 19 villages have been evacuated from their homes at gunpoint in the reservoir area and those homes burnt to the ground.  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at a ceremony stated:

"The step that we are taking today demonstrates that the south-east is no longer neglected. This dam will bring big gains to the local people."

Ankara hopes that the dam - part of a long-term plan to develop the poor, mainly Kurdish region - will create up to 10,000 jobs, irrigate farmlands and attract tourists.  (It could well attract tourists, but perhaps those that would not be welcome). The government has promised to compensate local people who will lose their homes and that all the valuable artifacts will be relocated before the dam´s completion in 2013.  But evidence suggests that this is not the case and it is difficult to see how 10,000 jobs can be created when 50,000 – 80,000 people will be displaced to other villages, towns and cities.

The Ilisu project site photo from

http://www.eca-watch.org/problems/turkey/Ilisu/ilisu_view-1.j pg

Finally, ECA watch, an NGO that concentrates on ECA reform, formed after ECAs have been responsible for backing large projects that have contributed to all manor of abuses from environmental destruction to human rights issues, have proof that the dam is already started to be constructed defying all notices by the credit agencies.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I have provided some links within this article should anyone wish to read more about the project. 





Below are references from the text.

[1] This figure is one of several variations, but quoted the most often

[3] Salinated: Salt affected soils caused by an excess accumulation of salt

[4] Eutrophication and anoxic conditions: Eutrophication is caused by a build up of nutrients in the water causing algae to grow resulting in a lack of oxygen in the water (anoxic conditions) affecting the ecosystem (would result in killing fish)

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