x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Support for Turkish dam is crumbling

As a final deadline for Turkey to win western financial backing for a dam project draws near, Austria, Germany and Switzerland are said to be close to withdrawing their support.

Part of the historic town of Hasankeyf would be submerged by a lake.
Part of the historic town of Hasankeyf would be submerged by a lake.

ISTANBUL // As a final deadline for Turkey to win western financial backing for a dam project draws near, Austria, Germany and Switzerland are reported to be close to withdrawing their support. Ankara, however, says it is determined to build the Ilisu dam - named after a village on the Tigris River in south-east Anatolia - as it needs the project's 1,200-megawatt power plant to generate energy and jobs in one of the poorest regions of the country. Companies from Austria, Germany and Switzerland are involved in the project, worth ?1.1 billion (Dh5.1bn), and state-run credit insurance agencies from the three countries agreed to fund it, provided that Turkey fulfils 153 conditions, including securing environmental standards, and the relocating more than 50,000 inhabitants of 200 villages and towns. After telling Ankara last year that it had not done enough to ensure compliance with the conditions, and suspending credits in January, the three governments set a final deadline of July 6. After that date, the three may withdraw support for good. Last week, the German daily Frankfurter Rundschau, citing government sources, reported that Berlin had agreed to stop the project and that Austrian and Swiss authorities had reached the same decision. There has been no official confirmation, but a source closely involved with the project said the three countries could well reach a decision along the lines reported by the newspaper. "There has been no final decision," the source said. "But things have been moving in that direction." Teams of experts from the three countries visited the dam area and concluded in several reports that Turkey had failed to fulfil most of the project's 153 conditions. Murat Ataol of the Doga Dernegi, or Nature Association, an environmental pressure group in Ankara campaigning against the project, welcomed the Europeans' reported decision. "It is our aim that the dam will not be built," Mr Ataol said. Recently, the campaign against the dam won several high-profile backers, among them Turkey's Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk, and Tarkan Tevetoglu, a pop star. Much of their campaign centred on the ancient city of Hasankeyf, which would be inundated by a lake that would cover more than 300 sq km once the dam is built. The Nature Association says Hasankeyf should be included on the UN's World Heritage List, which would make the project even more difficult to push through. Ankara confirmed last week that the Europeans are not happy with Turkey's record to fulfil the conditions and vowed to go it alone if the three countries pulled out. "Even before the work actually started, it was said [by the Europeans] that the criteria had not been fulfilled," Veysel Eroglu, the environment minister, told the Turkish daily Radikal. He said Turkey wanted a final decision soon. "On July 6, the three credit institutions should announce their final decision. If they don't, we will assume that they are not well-intentioned. Even if there are no credits, the dam will be built with our own financial resources." According to Radikal, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, will participate in a ground-breaking ceremony for "New Hasankeyf", a settlement for the inhabitants of Hasankeyf, on July 30. The Ilisu dam is part of the South Anatolia Project, a network of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric plants, according to government plans. The Ilisu reservoir will contain more than 10 billion cubic metres of water from the Tigris. It is not known which companies would build the dam if the European credit guarantees failed to materialise. "At the end of the day, they will never do it on their own," Mr Ataol said about Turkish authorities. According to Diyarbakir Soz, a daily in south-eastern Turkey, a panel there on renewable energy led to a heated debate on the project last week. Diyarbakir's governor, Huseyin Avni Mutlu, accused environmentalists of blocking progress in the region and of ignoring "the demands of our people and the interests of the country". But the head of the local Chamber of Electrical Engineers called on Ankara to give up the project and "engage in an effort that can take us into the future and leaves Hasankeyf where it is". tseibert@thenational.ae