Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ilısu Dam Project in for Hard Times Despite Government Plans

PHOTOS of Hasankeyf from the Atlantic

On July 7, the German, Swiss, and Austrian governments announced plans to withdrawal from the Turkey's 1,200 megawatt Ilısu dam, an ambitious engineering project designed to generate 3.8 billion kilowatts/hour of electricity to the country per annum. The dam is part of Turkey's larger Southeast Anatolia Project, commonly referred to as GAP. Plans for GAP date to the 1970s, and the total project is estimate to cost an estimated €32 billion of which the Ilısu project was expected to cost €1.2 billion. From Amnesty International:
In March 2007 the German, Swiss and Austrian governments agreed to support companies from those countries to supply equipment and engineering services for the construction of the Ilısudam. This support was provided through ECAs [export-credit agencies], which arepublic or semi-public institutions thatgrant government-backed loans, guarantees and insurance to domestic companies that seek to do business overseas. Germany's Euler Hermes Kreditversicherungs-AG, Austria's Oesterreichische Kontrollbank Aktiengesellschaft(OEKB) and Switzerland's Swiss Export Risk Insurance(SERV) agreed to disburse a total of 450 million Euros in export risk guarantees.

When the three ECAs granted their support, a committee of independent experts was set up to evaluate and monitor the implementation of an agreement between the governments of Switzerland, Germany and Austria and the Turkish government on the impacts of the dam, including the social and environmental impacts. The agreement required the Turkish government to put in place mitigating measures, adequate compensation and a comprehensive scheme for the resettlement of affected communities. Following repeated breaches of this agreement, the governments of Germany, Switzerland and Austria put the contracts of national companies on hold for 180 days at the end of 2008. On 7 July 2009, when the Turkish government had not met the agreed standards, they decided to withdraw their support to companies involved in the project.

Had the ECA support not been withdrawn,Germany, Austria and Switzerland, as well as the companies receiving export credit guarantees, would be at risk of complicity in human rights violations and/or profiting from a project involving serious human rights violations.
The holds were ordered on Jan. 6 and the social and evironmental impacts referred to involved the expropriation of land from villagers who live on the proposed site and the failure of the Turkish government to conduct environmental impact assessments adequate to the demands of the ECAs. Since the Turkish government did not meet the 153 funding criteria placed on the project by the German government, Germany suspended funds and Switzerland and Austria followed suit. The German share of the project was €450 million. The funding criteria reflected World Bank environmental and heritage standards.

Ilısu would have been constructed on 300 square kilometers of expropriated land, involved the displacement of some 80 villages (mostly Kurdish) and 55,000 people (though Hürriyet reports it would have displaced 65,00 people), and flooded heritage sites, in particular the village of Hasankeyf, a city dating to Roman times and said to be home of over 20 cultures. The town was destroyed by the Mongols, but rebuilt by Selcuk Turks in the eleventh century. I posted on Hasankeyf in December.

Despite the withdrawal of foreign investment, Turkish Environment and Forestry Minister Veysel Eroğlu has said Turkey will continue to the poject. Particularly disconcerting, Eroğlu chalked opposition of the project up to From the AFP via Hürriyet:
"We have successfully carried out some important work in order to realize the project in accordance with international standards . . . The criticism is untrue. This is the work of foreign powers that do not want Turkey to become a regional power," he added.
An article in TDZ made no reference to Eroğlu's combative remarks, but did note the minister's insistence to carry on with the project for the economic good of the country's east and southeastern regions.

This claim is up to debate and figures into what has long been a debate about both the Ilısu project and Southeast Anatolia Project (GAP)as a whole. As Gareth Jenkins pointed out in an article last year, GAP is a long-standing project that has heightened tensions in the region for over thirty years. Though AKP has been quick to tout the project as benefitting the southeast, this is a dubitable claim. Additionally, it is largely seen by many Kurds and observers of Turkish politics as part of what Ece Temelkuran has termed Turkey's "Islamist banana" poltiics. (For Jenkins and "banana politics," see my post from last March.

So far, Turkey has invested an estimated total of $20 billion in GAP, and though GAP's irrigation projects have increased yields two to three times, it is reported to have left many of those whose lands were expropriated in an even greater state of poverty. Yigal Schleifer, in an article for Eurasianet last June notes a recent study by the Turkish Confederation of Young Businessmen (TÜGIK). According to TÜGIK, despite the investment in GAP, "the region’s share in the national income is lower today than it was 40 years ago. While the 2007 per capita income in the region around Istanbul was $14,500, in Turkey’s southeast it was only $5,200." The Ilısu dam project made up a significant sum of the $12 billion Prime Minister Erdoğan promised on May 27, 2008, and which he spoke of on his visit to Diyarbakır last summer. As for Ilısu, Schleifer points out little attention was paid to building local manufacturing jobs or to food processing facilities, industries that would have seen a real benefit for economic development in the largely Kurdish southeast. In the same piece, Schleifer writes that not all of those forcibly removed in previous phases of GAP received compensation and interviewed some of the displaced who were now working as loaborers on the farm lands they had once inhabited on the fertile Harran plains.

The Ilısu project was slated to be completed in 2013, but the ECA withdrawals -- despite the claims of Minister Eroğlu -- leave its completion up in the air. It is not at all clear, especially amidst the havoc of the financial crisis, that Turkey has the funds it needs to complete the project. However, as the Guardian reports, the dam, first planned in the 1980s, "has a history of troubles." The British construction company Balfour Beatty scrapped plans for a £200m investment in 2001 under pressure from environmentalists and human rights groups." Will the Turkish government complete the project, or will it look for funding elsewhere?

1 comment:

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

The trends in the per capita figures for income difference across regions are meaningless for the purpose they are being used in those articles unless the rates of population increase are the same across the regions compared. I don't know whether that's the case. (Kurdish or not, poor rural folks do have more kids, but migration is always towards wealthier regions). All these figures are suspect, in my opinion, unless they reflect transfer payments for health care ('green cards' for free health care) and the non-collection of utility bills. The tragedy isn't necessarily in those numbers. As the articles you mention point out, the people of the region don't have the chance to work and acquire marketable skills either through work or education. This argument might be familiar to you from the US: governments can claim they are spending a lot of money but they might be spending it to simply warehouse the poor.

For another viewpoint, if you can read Turkish, I would recommend Metin Munir's recent articles on the Ilisu project. I'll give you a link to the first one and the later ones should be reachable for there with some clicking effort.

Anyway, I remember we talked about the Turkish left so here's something related to both that and the present issue. Some folks from the '68 generation' seem to have produced a documentary about a bridge they went and built in Hakkari about 40 years ago. Here's a trailer. It has scenes contrasting (in an obviously biased manner) the state of Istanbul and E. Anatolia back then and now.