Turkey expects ban on dam loan to be lifted

2nd July 2009, Comments 0 comments

The loan for the Turkey’s Ilisu Dam project was frozen for six months in January on the grounds that Turkey had failed to meet several criteria addressing the project's environmental and social impacts.

Ankara -- Turkey said Wednesday that it expects European lenders to release 1.2 billion euros (1.6 billion dollars) next week for a major dam project that critics say will flood a millennia-old historic site and displace thousands in the country's southeast.

The loan for the Ilisu Dam -- extended by an international consortium including Austrian, German and Swiss lenders -- was frozen for six months in January on the grounds that Turkey had failed to meet several criteria addressing the project's environmental and social impacts.

"We have successfully carried out some important work in order to realize the project in accordance with international standards," Environment Minister Veysel Eroglu told a press conference here.

Turkey has completed 47 of the 89 conditions listed in the loan protocol and expects the funds to be released on July 6, Eroglu said.

But last week, the German daily Frankfurter Rundschau reported that Berlin had agreed to withdraw support from the project and that Austrian and Swiss authorities had also reached the same decision.

Asked what Turkey would do if the loan was not released, the minister said: "We will make that decision on July 6. But this dam will be built. We have the money and the capability to construct it," he said.

The Ilisu Dam project, on the Tigris River some 45 kilometres (28 miles) from the Syrian border, is part of an ambitious network of dams and power plants that Ankara hopes will revive the economy of the Kurdish-majority southeast wrecked by a 25-year Kurdish insurgency.

But the project has come under intense criticism especially for its impact on nearby Hasankeyf, a small impoverished town on the banks of the Tigris that was once a mighty city in ancient Mesopotamia, part of which will be flooded by dam waters.

Critics say the dam will destroy Hasankeyf's unique heritage that includes Assyrian, Roman and Ottoman monuments and displace an estimated 50,000 people.

"The criticism is untrue. This is the work of foreign powers who do not want Turkey to become a regional power," Eroglu said, but refused to elaborate.

Ankara says that the project, with its 1,200-megawatt power plant, will generate 3.8 billion kWh of electricity annually, contribute 300 million euros to the economy, create thousands of jobs, and irrigate vast areas of farmland.

Under the project, the government will compensate those dislocated by the project and build a new town for Hasankeyf residents.

Officials say 80 percent of Hasankeyf's archaeological sites -- including tombs and hundreds of cave houses, already damaged by nature and years of neglect -- will remain above the planned waterline.

The project foresees the relocation of the monuments that would be flooded to a planned open-air museum nearby.

AFP/Expatica

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