The proposed Ilisu dam in Turkey has been the subject of much public debate. Here opponents and proponents of the scheme give their side of the story

An NGO perspective: vested interests and politics,

by Peter Bosshard, Berne Declaration

Turkey’s power consumption is less than one-sixth of the Overseas Economic Corporation Development average per capita, and is growing rapidly. But does this warrant the construction of dams like Ilisu? NGOs do not believe so. Ilisu illustrates the social, environmental, political and financial problems which have beset many large dams.

In southeast Anatolia human rights are routinely violated and thousands of villages have been destroyed by the military. It is naive to expect successful resettlement schemes in this context. Earlier dam projects in the region have an abysmal record of rehabilitation. Official surveys say 67-89% of the people affected by these dams would like to go back to their original villages.

The authorities estimate that Ilisu will displace 12-15,000 people. They do not count the thousands of people who have been evicted from their villages by the military, and intend to return after the civil war. They disregard thousands of others who will lose land. A report commissioned by the UK government estimates that the reservoir will negatively affect more than 36,000 people.

The creditor governments have pledged to comply with World Bank standards in financing Ilisu. Yet these standards have been violated during project preparation. As the above figures show, affected people have never been properly identified. The local authorities were only officially informed about the project in December 1999. There has been no consultation on resettlement or environmental impacts.

The reservoir will bring waterborne diseases like malaria to the region. The dam will also cut off downstream areas from the seasonal floods on which their ecosystems and agriculture depend. Wastewater treatment may prevent the reservoir from turning into a toxic pond. It will not, however, prevent a shortage of oxygen, a drop in the groundwater level, interruption of the sediment flow and erosion of the downstream river bed.

Turkey is known for its aggressive water policies. ‘Neither Syria nor Iraq can lay claim to Turkey’s rivers any more than Ankara could claim their oil,’ President Demirel said when opening the Ataturk dam in 1992. Turkey was one of only three countries which opposed the Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses at the UN General Assembly in 1997. In violation of international law and of the pending Convention, Ankara has indeed made use of its purported ‘right’ and has reduced the regional waterflows in periods of crisis since 1991.

Project proponents point out that more than half of Iraq’s Tigris water is from tributaries which are not affected by Ilisu. Turkey is now damming some of these other tributaries. While Ilisu is not an irrigation project it does allow Ankara to vary the river flow, and thus to blackmail the other riparian countries. The deterioration of water quality has negative impacts on the downstream countries even in normal operation. In spite of these impacts, Turkey refuses to consult its neighbours on the dam, violating friendship treaties of 1930, 1946 and 1987. As the protests from Syria and the Arab League demonstrate, the project is fuelling regional tensions already.

The Ilisu contract has never been up for public tender. An attempt by the Turkish government to implement the project on a BOT basis failed. In November 1998, the Swiss government guaranteed contracts for the Ankara gas power project. At a cost of US$380/kW, this project costs less than a third of Ilisu. Rehabilitating Turkey’s notoriously inefficient transmission system would be even more cost-efficient. These figures demonstrate that Ilisu does not make economic sense and that more sustainable and emission-free alternatives are available.

As it stands, Ilisu violates international law and contradicts five World Bank policies on 18 accounts. The World Bank has refrained from financing dam projects in southeast Anatolia since the mid-1980s. In 1999 it turned down a request from the Swiss government to assist in the preparation of a rehabilitation action plan for Ilisu. Turkey in turn refused permission to the World Commission on Dams to independently evaluate the dams on the Tigris and Euphrates.

In March 2000, the Trade and Industry Select Committee of the UK Parliament also noted the ‘excessive degree of secrecy’ and the ‘deplorable and counter-productive lack of transparency’ in preparing the funding of the Ilisu project. What is the reason for this secrecy if Ilisu is a rational investment option?

Since private or multilateral finance could not be tapped, the Ilisu consortium has applied for funding from export credit agencies, which have for the first time agreed to provide funding only if project implementation complies with international standards. Presumably they refer to the relevant World Bank policies. These policies are more than empty words. They require that alternative investment options are considered, riparian countries are consulted and affected people are involved before a project is adopted. Similarly, the report commissioned by the UK government says that ‘consultation/participation with local stakeholders should be in place before the contract is signed’.

If the creditor governments are serious about their commitment to international standards, the Turkish authorities must go back to the drawing board. This would allow the region’s population to identify and include their own development priorities. Equally, the creditor governments must be prepared to suspend their credits and guarantees if international standards are seriously violated during project implementation. So far, only the UK government has agreed to accept this basic principle.

A response to Ilisu critics, by Nigel Sloan, Balfour Beatty

The proposed dam and hydroelectric scheme at Ilisu has been the subject of criticisms from NGOs and newspapers. Friends of the Earth, the UK Guardian and the Berne Declaration have been at the forefront. These criticisms are based largely on misunderstanding, miscon-ception, out-of date information, exaggeration or just errors.

Balfour Beatty is not the promoter of Ilisu dam, which is a Turkish government project, but is applying for UK Export Credits to cover the part of construction costs represented by exports from the UK (US$200M or 10% of the total project cost). The company has played an active role in the preparation and discussion of the environmental impact assessment of the project. It has confirmed that the international contracting group will not proceed to the construction stage until an agreement is reached between Turkey and the seven funding governments on the environmental issues in that assessment.

It is an unavoidable consequence of all large hydro schemes that the inhabitants of the reservoir area must move. The key to acceptability is how compensation and resettlement is handled. It is agreed that the benefits of any project to the wider population should not be at the expense of costs borne by the local population. At Ilisu, Turkish authorities have committed themselves to a process of professional socio-economic surveys and local public consultation to offer everyone affected the choice of local resettlement, or cash compensation and relocation support services. As dam impounding is still some eight years away there is plenty of time.

The ethnic composition of the planned reservoir area is mixed, but all have the same legal rights to compensation with rights of appeal all the way to Strasbourg if necessary. At Ilisu there will be an international panel of experts to assist and assess the progress of resettlement. Turkey would like Ilisu to be a showcase for its proper handling of resettlement, and it believes the project will bring new prospects to this impoverished area.

Much of Hasankeyf, built by Seljuk Turks in the early 12th century would, regrettably, be flooded by the project, but fortunately not the Upper Town which would survive on a dramatic cliff-top site. Current inhabitants of Hasankeyf are of varied ethnic origin and only re-occupied the site in the 1960s, after it was abandoned at the end of the First World War. The Turkish Ministry of Culture, together with Turkish and foreign universities, has already commenced a programme of archeological research to identify which buildings in the lower town would merit rescue. It may be that Ilisu will prove the catalyst for the preservation of the best of Hasankeyf, in contrast to its current state of decay and collapse. However, Anatolia has many towns dating from that period, as indeed it has from many centuries earlier.

There are concerns that Ilisu will cause an outbreak of Malaria, but there is no reason to expect any increase in the number of mosquitoes. Malaria already exists in the area, and a deep reservoir would be a less attractive breeding ground than the existing terrain. There is no Leishmaniosis in the area. It tends to occur in areas of irrigated cultivated land. Such habitats will not be created, so there is no reason to expect Leishmaniosis.

Ilisu is purely a hydroelectric power scheme, with no irrigation component. All the water that flows through the turbines must carry on downstream. The only net loss of water would be evaporation from the reservoir surface area, calculated at less than 3% of normal river flow at that point. As no irrigation is involved Ilisu will not cause pollution from returned water. To avoid the danger of eutrophication new sewage treatment plants for towns upstream will be built.

Ilisu will not violate the 1997 UN Convention on Non-Navigational Use of International Waterways, which has not entered into force because it lacks the minimum number of countries to sign and ratify it. Turkey has not signed it, but then nor has Iraq, the UK or Switzerland.

Using Ilisu for political blackmail would be ineffective. Hydroelectric schemes operate with a full reservoir and at Ilisu, the minimum water level (at the end of the dry season) will be only 15m below the maximum level (early in the wet season). As no diversion canal exists, stopping flow through the turbines will lead to spillway overtopping in weeks.

The Tigris is of low strategic value to Syria as it only touches the Turkish-Syrian border for about 30km before entering Iraq. Within Iraq, the Tigris is joined by tributaries delivering in total more water than the main stream of the Tigris. The effect of any temporary stoppage at Ilisu would be substantially diluted, and is unlikely to be significant below the Mosul dam in northern Iraq. In fact, once in commercial operation, Ilisu will provide Syria and Iraq with at least double the current amount of water in a typical summer season by regulating the seasonal variations in river flows.

The growth in demand in Turkey is such that new capacity twice the size of Ilisu is needed annually for ten years. Whatever the scope for improving transmission the need for Ilisu remains. Complete elimination of transmission losses would only gain Turkey six months.

The process of environmental impact assessment is ongoing. The 1998 report identified key issues and work now focuses on research in those areas and discussions between the Export Credit Agencies, the consultants and the Turkish authorities on appropriate mitigation measures. The definitive Environmental Impact Assessment Report, complete with mitigation measures agreed by the Turkish authorities, will be made available for comment in Spring 2000.

Ilisu will enable a saving in greenhouse gas emissions of world significance.

Ilisu facts and figures

Location: Tigris river
Type: rockfill with a central clay core
Height: 135m
Volume: 43.8M m3
Function: only power production. Installed capacity of 1200MW with an annual generation of 3800GWh (primarily for daily peaks)
Reservoir: storage capacity of 10,410M m3, 136km long covering an area of 313km2.
Project promoter: Ministry of Energy of the Government of Turkey, acting through its Agency for State Hydraulic Works (DSI).
Local opposition: UK newspaper reports state that there is strong public support for electrification and irrigation projects in Turkey. Turkey suffers from chronic power cuts and a poor agricultural sector, and plans for the Ilisu dam have met only weak resistance from domestic NGOs. In contrast, projects to build a third bridge across the Bosphorus in Istanbul and to construct the country’s first nuclear power plant, have sparked much greater opposition.

Project history

In 1997 Turkey invited Sulzer Hydro to form a consortium to negotiate construction of Ilisu, on the understanding that a 100% debt financing package would be arranged by the consortium and its banking advisor UBS. ABB joined Sulzer to provide electrical generators and switchgear, and in 1998 they were joined by a civil works joint venture led by Balfour Beatty and including Impreglio, Skanska and three Turkish firms (Kiska, Nurol and Tekfen).
Each member of the consortium applied to its Export Credit Agency (ECA) to seek approval for ECA-backed buyer credit loans to Turkey. These will finance the imported elements of the project, estimated at around US$1B. (Total project is estimated at US$1.6B).
Before Balfour Beatty joined the project, Sulzer and ABB had recognised the need for a proper environmental impact assessment report (EIAR). They commissioned an EIAR from Hydro-Concepts Engineering and COLENCO, Hydro-Quebec and Dolsar of Turkey. The report was produced in Spring 1998 and sent to all the ECAs. In July 1998 the OECD agreed in Paris that it was the duty of ECAs to examine the environmental impact of major projects such as Ilisu before giving approval.
Balfour Beatty is due to publish an updated EIAR in spring 2000. Concerns raised since preparation of the 1998 report will be addressed when this is released. The report will be available to ECAs and other interested parties (such as NGOs). New information can be added before final loan approvals are made.