Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cracks in the Ilisu Dam Project?

The Ilisu dam project in southeast Turkey has been one of the country's most controversial energy and infrastructure plans for years. The proposed dam, which would be Turkey's 2nd largest, would lead to the displacement of tens of thousands -- mostly Kurdish villagers -- and the flooding of Hasankeyf, a unique, historic town on the Tigris River. The Turkish government claims the dam is an important part of a larger plan to bring economic development to the struggling region, but locals believe the damage caused by the project will outweigh any of its benefits. 
The project might now be in danger. According to an article in today's English-language Hurriyet, some of the Ilisu dam's main financial backers -- Austria, Germany and Switzerland -- are considering pulling out of the project because Turkey has failed to meet certain criteria regarding the dam's impact on the environment and human rights. Turkey could still move ahead with building the dam without the three countries' loans, but their backing out would still be a major blow and an important victory for the dam's opponents.
I visited the area around Hasankeyf last summer and filed this report for Eurasianet, looking at the Ilisu project and the larger economic development plan for the region.

UPDATE -- The German government has now officially withdrawn its support for the Ilisu dam.

(Two children in Hasankeyf fishing in the Tigris River. The town, which contains ruins dating back to Assyrian and Roman times, would end up mostly underwater if the Ilisu dam project is realized. By Yigal Schleifer)

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