Republican News · Thursday 8 June 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Turkey's controversial dam project

The governments of Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and the United States are currently consider extending official export credits or guarantees of about $850 million to the Ilisu hydropower project in Turkey.

Ilisu is at present the largest planned dam project in Turkey. It is located on the Tigris river, 65 km upstream of the Syrian and Iraqi borders and will cover 2,000 square kilometres.

The project has been criticised by environmentalists, the World Bank, Turkey's neighbours and the Arab League. The project is extremely controversial for a variety of political, social, environmental, economic and archaeological reasons. It appears to violate five policy guidelines of the World Bank and core provisions of the UN Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of Transboundary Watercourses.

Since the 1970s, Turkey has been implementing the so-called ``Southeast Anatolia Project'' (Güneydogu Anadolu Projesi - GAP) - a gigantic dam project developed for energy production and irrigation. The Kurdish provinces of Gaziantep, Urfa, Adiyaman, Malatya, Elazig, Tunceli, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Siirt, Batman and Sirnak are the most affected. Altogether, 21 dams and 19 hydropower stations are planned. The whole project will cost and estimated $32,000 million.

Work is underway or complete on 21 dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Turkey says the dams will enable hundreds of thousands of hectares of land to be irrigated, and generate electricity for the underdeveloped and arid southeast of the country. But the project is relatively expensive at a cost of $1,300 per kw of electricity. No supply-side alternatives to Ilisu have been considered, as the Turkish government is ready to pay a high price for Ilisu because of its interest to control the Kurdish population of Southeast Anatolia.

GAP dams such as Ataruk or Karakaya have so far displaced 100,000 people. Compensation has usually been tied to the property of land or houses. Since most land in Southeast Anatolia is concentrated in the hands of large landowners, many landless families were not compensated at all.

The main goals of GAP are to increase regional income, increase agricultural exports and secure the national energy supply. An increase in income is to be predicted for those firms involved (the British company Balfour Beatty being one of them) the Turkish elite and the big landowners. Small farmers and landless people will be forced to migrate to slums around the main cities.

The dam projects are also a highly important component in Turkey's so-called ``low intensity warfare'' against the Kurds. The resettlement of native people together with Turks from other regions is planned to promote the assimilation of the Kurdish population. The conflict dates back to the 1920s, when the Turkish state initiated a policy of assimilation, banning the use of the Kurdish language. Flooding their cities is a way to destroy Kurdish history and in a region under virtual military rule, a protest campaign against it is almost impossible.

The Ilisu reservoir will flood 52 villages and 15 small towns, including Hasankeyf - a kurdish town with a population of 5,500 and the only town in Anatolia which has survived since the Middle Ages without destruction. For the last 20 years, there has been no investment in the town, because everyone knew that the dam would destroy it, though it was awarded archaeological protection by the Turkish government in 1978.

It was not until December 1999 that Turkish government officials visited Hasankeyf to inform the population. The 20,000 affected people are not being consulted and the environmental impact assessment of Ilisu was not made available to them or to NGOs, only to the creditor banks and export-credit agencies.

From the environmental point of view, the dam will vastly reduce the autopurification capacity of the Tigris, as solid waste and wastewater of cities such as Diyarbakir and Batman and Siirt are being dumped into this river. The Ilisu dam will also infest the area with malaria and leishmaniosis.

The World Bank refused to participate in the project because of fears it would increase the danger of cross-border conflict with Turkey's neighbours to the south, Syria and Iraq

Turkey controls the Tigris and Euphrates headwaters which Iraq and Syria depend on for fresh water. So far, Turkey has not been prepared to negotiate a peaceful compromise regarding the management of the rivers, but relies on its position of power on the upstream part of the river to pressurise and blackmail the other countries.

In May 1997, the UN General Assembly approved the Convention on the Non-Navigational Uses of Transboundary Waterways. This convention attempts to prevent significant negative impacts of projects on international waterways on other adjacent countries. China and Burundi and Turkey were the only states to reject the convention, more specifically in Turkey's case, those provisions ruling the prior notification of adjacent nations about water projects, the prevention of significant harm and the peaceful resolution of international water conflicts.

The capacity of the reservoir will be sufficient for Turkey to block any water flowing to Syria and Iraq for several months. Both Baghdad and Damascus have complained about the amount of water they have been getting since the completion of the first Turkish dams at the beginning of the 1990s.

The finance package for Ilisu will be arranged by the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS). The World Bank declined to fund GAP in 1984 and will not become involved in Ilisu. Therefore, external financing depends on coverage by official export credits of guarantees. The Ilisu contractors have submitted applications for coverage to the export credit agencies of several European Union member states.

In the late 1980s, British company Balfour Beatty was involved in the controversial Pergau dam project in Malaysia. The dam was criticised as unsuitable on environmental grounds and because the British aid package to build it was tied to Malaysia continuing to buy arms from British weapons manufacturers.

Members of the Ilisu Dam Campaign infiltrated the Balfour Beatty annual general meeting. The environmental group Friends of the Earth has been also very vocal in its opposition to the controversial project.

Teachers' strike in Mexico

Mexico City's historic centre is built around the huge Zocalo square, home to the cathedral, the National Palace, the city government, and now several thousand striking teachers. They arrived in the capital on Teachers' Day, 15 May, and set up a squatter camp of tents and plastic sheets in the Zocalo and surrounding streets.

There are about 10,000 of them, from a third of Mexico's 32 states. Almost every day they stage some protest action to draw attention to their cause: four marches through the city, blockades of the stock exchange, the Senate, TV stations and the headquarters of the electoral authority. Perhaps to make up for the traffic disruption caused by last Wednesday's 30 000 strong march, on Saturday, 3 June the teachers took over the toll plaza on the Mexico/Cuernavaca motorway for three hours and allowed motorists to pass without paying.

The strike has been represented by most of the Mexican media as a demand for higher wages, but is in fact much more political. The protesting teachers are almost all allied to the CNTE [National Coordinating Body of Education Workers], a radical group that grew out of dissatisfaction with the `yellow' leaders of the national teachers' union, the SNTE. The principal demand of the CNTE is an end to the creeping privatisation of education. In 1992, the federal government decentralised responsibility for education, including for paying the bills, to the states. The next step was to be municipalisation, making the municipalities [equivalent to small counties] responsible for the provision of education. So far this change has been blocked by teachers, who point out that poorer municipalities would have to charge parents in order to provide schools, putting primary education out of reach for many in regions where it is common not to make it to secondary school, but it is still on the cards.

Strike demands include the cancellation of the 1992 decree and abandoning the municipalisation plans, along with a commitment to maintaining free education. The teachers have also allied themselves to other protest movements, notably the students of the National University [UNAM], whose ten-month strike and occupation of the campus was broken in February by armed police, leading to almost a thousand students being jailed. The association of street traders and small businesses of the city centre has announced that it supports the teachers and will join them on future marches.

d initial results of a public poll conducted by the CNTE across the country at the end of last week indicate a large majority of those who voted [though the poll was small by Mexican standards] favour a rescue package for public education, the release of the UNAM students and the resignation of the minister for education. With such support, the teachers say they will be staying in the capital until they get a serious response from the federal government.

As the 2 July general elections draw near, education is bound to be an issue on many people's minds. In Chiapas, the government has stepped up military manoeuvres and harassment of the Zapatista rebels. Nongovernmental organisations working in the state have warned that this will frighten opposition supporters off voting in the election. Other forms of intimidation have also come to light, such as officials of the Progresa rural social welfare programme giving out leaflets with welfare payments which claim that only a vote for the PRI [Party of Institutionalised Revolution, which has ruled Mexico for 71 years] will ensure benefits continue.

The PRI, which looks like falling far short of a convincing majority, appears desperate to hold on to power.

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