TURKEY: Dam to displace 78,000 Kurds

September 20, 2000

A planned hydroelectric dam project in south-eastern Turkey will displace up to 78,000 people if international lending agencies and the British government provide financial support, according to a report leaked to British media.

According to the report by World Bank resettlement expert Dr Ayse Kudat, the Ilisu dam planned for the Tigris River would force thousands more people to be displaced than the 25,000 the Turkish government originally estimated. The report claims, "A large number of people are potentially affected and their numbers cannot be estimated. ... They range between 47,000 and 78,000." The report was commissioned by a consortium of export credit agencies that are considering financing the project.

Many critics of the dam say it would destroy the environment in a war-torn region that has experienced 16 years of conflict between the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Turkish government.

The Edinburgh-based engineering firm Balfour Beatty has asked for a UK government loan to support its bid to construct the dam. The governments of Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the United States are all considering extending official export credits or guarantees of about US$850 million to the Ilisu hydro-power project in Turkey.

Ilisu is the largest dam project in Turkey's pipeline. It is located on the Tigris River in south-east Anatolia, 65 kilometres upstream of the Syrian and Iraqi border. The dam may cut off up to half the flow of the river into Syria and Iraq, aggravating an already tense regional struggle over water.

The Tigris River runs through the medieval city of Hasankeyf. The dam would submerge Hasankeyf and at least 68 other towns and villages, displace many thousands of mostly Kurdish people and destroy ancient cultural treasures.

Kudat mentions as problems the lack of will or capacity in Turkey to handle resettlement issues, failure to meet international World Bank standards, inadequate budget, lack of necessary information on the affected people and a failure to address the needs of women and pastoralists.

A report in July by the International Development Select Committee of the British parliament recommended that "relevant international criteria should be met before a proposal is agreed ... The Ilisu Dam was from the outset conceived and planned in contravention of international standards, and it still does not comply." Citing environmental and human rights concerns, the committee recommended that funding not be provided by the UK government.

In the United States, the Export-Import Bank has a preliminary commitment of $100 million in loan guarantees to Balfour Beatty to support the project. Emilie Thenard of the Washington, DC-based Center for International Environmental Law, said: "Large scale involuntary resettlement has historically been a proven failure when done by the World Bank, and the leaked plan for Ilisu reveals a pending disaster. The report demonstrates that Ex-Im [the Export-Import Bank] is about to exacerbate an already dismal human rights situation with the Kurds in Turkey."

More information about the Ilisu Dam can be found at <http://www.hasankeyf.org/eng/links.htm>.

[Abridged from the Environment News Service (ENS), online at:


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