Turkish dam project ignites storm of protest

Published October 18th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

An alliance of human rights and environmental groups has called on the US Export-Import Bank to shun a Turkish hydroelectric dam project, which they say will force the re-settlement of thousands of people, damage public health, and endanger a Medieval architectural treasure. 


A letter signed by 14 groups urged Ex-Im Bank chairman James Harmon and US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to halt any further discussion of plans to back the Ilisu Dam project in southeastern Turkey, which they said was "ill conceived and a misuse of US taxpayer dollars." 


An Ex-Im bank official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that the agency had received "a preliminary request for a commitment" to support construction of the 1,200 megawatt dam on the Tigris River, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) from the Syrian border. 


The official said the bank has had the request for most of the year, and was still waiting for additional information before beginning an to evaluation. The official would not disclose who had sought the funding, or in what amount. 


The US Export-Import Bank is a government agency that guarantees loans for US companies that want to compete abroad and makes loans to foreign purchasers of US goods and services. 


The British government last December signaled its willingness to underwrite some of the construction costs in response to a request from the British firm Balfour Beatty for export credits worth 220 million dollars. 


The entire project has been estimated to cost 1.9 billion dollars. But the proposal has ignited a storm of protest from environmental and human rights activists as well as from Iraq and Syria, who accuse Turkey of monopolizing the waters of the Tigris to their detriment. 


In their recent letter, groups such as Friends of the Earth, the International Rivers Network, the Center for International Environmental Law, and the Washington Kurdish Institute have charged that the dam is planned for an area of armed conflict where the Turkish government is oppressing the ethnic Kurdish minority. 


The project would require the forced re-settlement of up to 34,000 local people and could negatively impact the lives of up to 78,000, according to the letter. "It is hard to imagine how the involuntary resettlement of up to 34,000 local people and up to 78,000 potentially impacted, mainly Kurds, will not exacerbate the human rights situation in the area," the letter said. 


The letter charged that the Turkish government, with a "dismal resettlement record for other dam projects," lacks the resources and the political will to honor international resettlement standards. 


In addition, the organizations predicted that the Ilisu Dam would inundate and destroy Hasankeyf, the only town in Anatolia that has survived since the Middle Ages and considered to be an archeological "treasure." 


They also argued that the dam, which will flood some of the most fertile land in the region, could increase the incidence of malaria and schistosomiasis. — (AFP, Washington) 


by Nathaniel Harrison 


© Agence France Presse 2000

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