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Dam Projects in Turkey

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Summer 1999 first part

Contents :

1. Background

Since the 1970ies Turkey is implementing its so called "South Anatolia Project" (Güneydogu Anadolu Projesi - GAP) - a gigantic dam project developed for energy production and irrigation. The Kurdish provinces Gaziantep, Urfa, Adiyaman, Malatya, Elazig, Tunceli, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Siirt, Batman und Sirnak are the most affected regions. All together 21 dams and 19 hydro power stations at the Euphrat and Tigris rivers are planned having an entire capacity of 8 000 MW with an annual production of 27.300 GWh. The whole area irrigated by the GAP will cover approximately 1,76 Mio. ha (Hinz-Karadeniz/Stoodt 1993, Bosshard 1998a). The whole project costs are estimated at $ 32 000 million (Bosshard 1998b).

For financing the project's components Turkey is dependent on foreign money. And because the World Bank is not involved Turkey is searching for alternative financial bakkers. To finance the best known and most controversial project, the Ilisu-Dam at the Tigris export risk guaranties are required. Last year the Switzerland has agreed upon such an guaranty covering $ 300 million (of the entire $1.520 milion). Companies have also applied for the German "Hermes export risk guaranties". The following shall contribute further arguments to the discussion held on that topic. The arguments contributed are mainly covering the ecological aspect of the project and are meant to avert this Dam.

Besides a few projects apart from the GAP shall be touched to see them from the ecological point of view.

An other sours talks about 23 dams planned only at the Tigris river, 5 of them being already under construction (Bosshard 1998b).

2. Critics against the Dam Projects in Kurdistan

The project is being heavily criticised by many sides because of its controversial aspects in means of regional-politics, military, ecology, economy, social feasibility and human rights. Filling up the reservoirs and the extensive use of the water for irrigation will reduce the amount of water in the Euphrates and Tigris rivers by 45 rsp. 10% which will heavily restrict the usability of these rivers in Syria and Irak. During the filling up of the Atatürk reservoir the Eufrat river almost dried up. Having at its disposal these dams Turkey finds itself in the situation of being able to politically extort Syria as well as Irak. For that reason in 1984 the Word Bank decided not to be involved into the GAP (Bosshard 1998b). In its main parts the South Anatolia Project infringe upon the 21.5.1997 - UN - Convention about the "Utilisation of international water ways for not shipping purposes" (term translated from German - nichtschiffbare Nutzungen).

Regarding its development policy and economical goals as well as consequences the GAP is alarmingly. The main goals are the increase in regional income, obtain foreign currencies by selling agricultural products grown with help of irrigation and secure the national energy supply by hydro power stations. These goals - as seen by themselves - may be hardly practicable whereas other demands that would make up a sustainable development of the region are being ignored from the very beginning. An increase in income is to be predicted first of all for the involved firms, the Turkish elite and the regional big landowners. The general public in the region will not be able to improve its economical situation due to the dam project - on the contrary. The economical bases (area, technical equipment, agro-chemicals ) needed for managing an intensive farming footed on irrigation have on their disposal only the big landowners. Small farmers with a rather poor basis of area and capital as well as leaseholder can not afford even the basic equipment. By pushing the regional agriculture into further intensification the GAP fosters the increase of firm's sizes - small farmers and land less people will loos their existence and will be forced to migrate. The industrialisation, fostered by the GAP will provide jobs only for a small part of the people migrating into the cities. Many of the newly established jobs will be filled with specialists from the Turkeys west. The projects export - orientation makes it very delicate to fluctuations of the market. The planned amount of agricultural products meats hardly a sufficient export market. As well the production of energy by hydro power plants is relatively expensive and does not guaranty profitability. Turkeys rather difficult economical situation makes the predicted increase in demand for energy questionable. Especially the ignorance to the ecological and social consequences and their costs caused by environmental damages and the migration of a large number of people makes the whole project economically risky. A sustainable development of the region, meaning the utilisation of the areas resources, the economical improvement of the general public, especially the underprivileged, and the participation of the affected people do not take place (Schindler in Hinz-Karadeniz/Stoodt 1993).

The mentioned dam projects are a highly important component in the so called "low intensity warfare". The Turkish government tries to withdraw the foundations of the Kurdish liberation movement by economical means. One part of the population will be driven away from their home, the others may gain loyalty to the Turkish state motivated by economical improvements like new jobs etc.. The resettlement of native people and the settlement of Turks from other regions will promote the assimilation of the Kurdish population. As well the dams could serve as barriers for Kurdish Guerilla (WEED) at the same time the resettlement of a large number of people weakens the local backing for the liberty movement. Flooding several historic sites of the Kurds according to many people from the region is in a purposeful manner destroying documents of Kurdish history. At the until now implemented projects the local population could neither participate in the planning of the projects nor in the planning of the moving. Compensations were only paid to land owners. The majority of landless farmers came away empty-handed and had therefor to move to the slums of (western Turkish) cities or to abroad.

3. Environmental consequences of the projects

Of high importance are as well the environmental consequences of the dam projects. Rivers and their surrounding environment are dependent and have manifold interactions. Dams are effecting whole landscapes connected to the rivers. These effects affect first of all directly the river and its valley (floodplain, closer valley), secondly they affect the flooded areas, thirdly the surrounding environment and fourthly the whole region of the new water body (Hinz-Karadeniz/Stoodt 1993). Unteil now neither a systematic taking down of the ecological estate of the region has been done nor were the consequences for the ecosystems analysed (Meyer in Hinz-Karadeniz/Stoodt). Only few aspects were considered in the launched EIAs.

3.1. Consequences for the ecosystems

The character of the rivers will change entirely. After implementation of GAP 50% of the rout of Turkish Eufrat (750 km) and Tigris (325km) will be converted into reservoirs (standing water). This will cause serious damages in the ecosystems. The substance flows will changed dramatically. Input of oxygen will drop compared to a running flow. Especially during the summer the system will suffer from a shortage of oxygen. The self-cleaning ability will radically decrease, eutrophic substances and pollutants will accumulate. The (biological) associations adopted to running water can not exist in standing water. Due to the regions natural lack of lakes (or standing waters in general) it is rather unlikely that organisms adopted to limnic environment may immigrate. Biological variety will decrease drastically.

Of special delicacy is the interruption of the sediment transport. In the arid region where GAP is being realised large amounts of Sediments are washed into the rivers by heavy summer rains annually. The dams will interrupt the way of the eroded material. The reservoirs convert to traps for these sediments and will be filled up within a view decades. Though in the scope of GAP measures like reforestation to avoid erosion are foreseen the reality is different. Almost all large wooded areas are being systematically damaged or extinct by the Turkish army - allegedly to combat terrorism. Forests are treated with herbicides, cleared off or burned using fire supporting substances like Napalm.

The lack of carried sediments will cause erosion of the river bed and the embankment on river sections downstream. Within a short period the riverbed can be lowered by several meters. This effect may occur on a stretch of several tens to hundreds kilometres downstream the dam. Simultaneously with the lowering of the river bed the ground water level in the valley will drop. Owing to that the natural vegetation will be damaged, the agriculture could require irrigation, wells may dry up. In cases of many large dams the phenomenon of sediment shortage, that caused erosion in the estuaries of the river was watched - so for example in the case of the Assuan Dam at the Nil. The lack of transported sediments also alters the composition of the material on the bottom of the river. The fraction of coarse gravel may change which would damage sprawning grounds of several fish species and take away the living area of many invertebrates like insects, molluscs or crustaceans. The dams constructed by the GAP project will significantly change and reduce the water outlet downstream. This effect will occur especially during the flooding of the reservoirs but also in their normal operation. The planned irrigation of about 1,7 million hectares will draw considerable amounts of water from the reservoirs and there upon drastically reduce run off especially during dry seasons. The dynamism of water levels in the river will be lost since peaks of natural water discharge are used to refill the reservoirs. But this dynamism is indispensable for lively alluvial plains. The associations of river environments are adopted to the regime of the particular river. Main live sustaining functions like reproduction, periods of resting and migration of flora and fauna depend on that cycle. Seasonal floods fulfil various ecological functions: they deposit eutrophic sediments and with that fertilise the alluvial plain, they keep old river branches open and refill wetlands and water bodies in the alluvial plain. Also the ecosystems in the estuaries are adopted to an oscillating supply with oxygen and nutrients. The change of these factors is an important reason for declining yields of fishing at the coast. Changes of the run-off-regime is threatening the continuation of biodiversity of river environments far beyond the reservoir itself. Cold water being discharged from deeper portions of the reservoir into the river downstream may be damaging to organisms sensitive to fluctuations of temperature. Dams act as barriers to migrating organisms of rivers. The GAP projects do not provide for mitigation measures like the construction of fish leaps (fish passes) as it is a must in western European projects. Any migration of fish and other species will be stopped. Above that, ecologically reservoirs as being not moving waters differentiate heavily from vital rivers - this will lead to a fragmentation of habitats in the rivers.

3.2 Changes of Riverenvironments / Riverlandscapes

By laying out reservoirs great parts of alluvial plains and valleys are flooded. That upon cease the most manifold habitats of the whole region vanish. Their ecological functions with the biodiversity will be lost forever. Many different habitats are affected: sections of the river with different flow intensity, gravel and sand banks, bushes of willows and tamarisks, alluvial woods, steep shores and rocky slopes, prairies, bushy areas and woods at the slopes and a manifold cultural landscape with its meadows, gardens, woody plants and fields.

Loosing the fluvial dynamics the narrow fabric of habitats will be lost. Ecosystems that will adopt to the new conditions along the shoreline of the artificial waters are not comparable to those of natural lakes and rivers.

The flooding of cultural landscapes grown by millenniums will cause considerable losses. Not only archaeological sights of the region will be damaged but also farming methods, gardening techniques and the genetical variety of useful plants will be extinct.

3.3 Changes in the surroundings

Consequences of large reservoirs for the surrounding are hardly analysed. Changes of the local and regional climate due to the new big water surfaces are very likely. Reservoirs influence the insolation, the moving and warmth of masses of air as well as humidity and precipitation. It is likely that the region will become more humid due to evaporation from the big water surfaces.

In the surrounding areas of the reservoirs the groundwater will persist at a relatively high level. If the capillary rising of salty groundwater during the summer will not interrupt this may cause a salinisation of the soil. That is valid especially in the case if regular inundations, which wash out the salt fail to occur.

The south east of Turkey is one of the seismically relatively active zones, because it is here that the Arabic and Anatolic clods meet. The construction of large reservoirs in seismically active regions is very risky and may even contribute to a higher seismic activity (Meyer in Hinz-Karadeniz/Stoodt 1993).

3.4 Consequences caused by changing the land use

The land use in those by the dam projects affected areas differ according to the region. In the region the rain - agriculture without additional irrigation prevail. Besides the relatively intensive agriculture performed by the big land owners there is still a considerable number of small farmers (rsp. leaseholders) carrying out an extensive farming. Wide areas with prairie vegetation are used as extensive grazing land.

By implementing the irrigation projects and expelling large numbers of the resident population and the traditional rather sustainable land use methods sustaining the subsistence get lost. A cultural landscape rich on cultured plants is meant to be displaced by monocultures of the irrigation based intensive agriculture. Large areas will for example be covered with cotton fields. Due to this intensification the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and heavy technique will increase - causing all those known effects to the agrarian ecosystems. The extensive irrigation in arid climate holds the danger of soil salinisation. The latter is usually avoided by "rinsing" the fields and draining the salted water. This water will again risen the mineralisation of rivers and lakes with heavy consequences for the ecosystems and the usability of the water. Storing the salted water would at the other hand form salt swamps.

Salinisation, wetting and use of pesticides cause risks for the residents health. The air as well as the water would be polluted. Desease causing agents (e.g. of Malaria, Cholera or Leishmaniose) can spread.

The dam projects are as well meant to foster an industrial development in the region. Land consumption and emissions will devide the intact and coherent landscape to islands with negative effects to the biological diversity, the quality of soil, air as well as ground and surface water. The for the region typical low environmental standard of the industry can be retraced from the existing industries like cement factories, copper mines and oil extracting.

4. Results of the round travel in 1999

The named projects where visited by me and one of mine colleges in august 1999. Main attencion during the travel was paid to the environmental damages caused by the war against the Kurdish Liberation Movement. Though we acted as tourists in the region our freedom of movement was massively limited by the Turkish security guards, often we were evidently shadowed. Visiting of small towns and villages was usually prohibited by the security. To inspect areas outside the towns and villages was as well hardly possible - either it was prohibited by the Turkish security or the local people intensively advised us against doing so because of the danger of being shot at by the military. Thus all observations were made quasi passing by or during short rests. Further, the season (august) was not ideal to estimate the ecological status of an area. It would be rather helpful to visit the sights in spring and to get the permits for entering the areas in advance from the Turkish authorities. This could possibly work in co-operation with the Turkish "Association for Nature Preservation" DKHD, which in the past had several times the opportunity to launch biological studies in closed military zones.

The following reservoirs have been visited (content of the full version):

GAP region:

  • Dicle Nehri river (Tigris) and basin: -
  • Ilisu-Baraji (Hasankeyf) at the Dicle Nehri river -
  • Batman Baraji (Malabadi Köprüsü) at the Batman Çayi river
  • Göksu Baraji and the region around Diyarbakir

outside the GAP region:

  • Firat Nehri river (Euphrates) and basin:
  • Keban and Kara Kaya Baraji at the Firat Nehri and Murat Nehri rivers -
  • Reservoir at the Munzur Çayi river near by Tunceli -
  • Reservoir near by Yusufeli at the Çoruh Nehri river

    Conversations were held with the local residents of Hasankeyf and the province of Dersim (Tunceli) as well as in numerous other affected municipalities (e.g. Batman, Silvan, Diyarbakir), with representatives of the Human Rights Association (Insan Haklari Dernegi - IHD) and with those of the "Association for Nature Preservation" (Dogal Hayati Koruma Dernegi - DHKD).

    4.1 Ilisu-Baraji (Hasankeyf) at the Dicle Nehri river (Tigris)

    The Ilisu-dam is to be built at the Tigris about 65 km upstream the border of Syria and Iraq nearby the town Dargeçit having a length of 1820 m and a height of 135 m. This will form a reservoir with a surface area of 313km² and a capacity of 10,4 km³. Main goal of this structure is the generation of energy. The HPS' planned capacity is 1200 MW whereas the annually generated amount of energy is supposed to reach 3800 GWh (Bosshard 1998). The dams importance for irrigation is just little. But though the DSI cites it as one of the 13 projects for irrigation (Hinz-Karadeniz/Stoodt 1993). An exact area that is intended to be irrigated from this reservoir is not mentioned. Of bigger importance for water supply to the agriculture has the Cizre reservoir downstream at the Tigris, the latter being already under construction according to the Human Rights Association (IHD).

    In spite of the relatively high costs of 1,3 Mio. $/MW and although various critics have been known for a long time have the alternatives have not been reviewed comprehensively. This reinforces the impression that Turkey is fostering this project not least because of domestic politics. Therefore the economical costs and benefits (including external costs) have not been calculated consequently.

    Actual state

    During the round travel could be visited the part of the project area in and around the town Hasankeyf and the surroundings of Batman and Siirt. Together with its architecture, the cave buildings, the ruins of the old bridge across the Tigris and the steep bank of the Tigris - sometimes changing with gentle slopes - the town Hasankeyf forms a magnificent landscape. Short before reaching the town one passes several military areas. The town itself makes a rather neglected impression. Obviously no considerable investments have been made for several years. The numerous buildings under historical preservation are as well heavily neglected. But though, the historical value of the buildings and the whole ensemble is still unmistakable. A planned taking apart of some of those monuments and their rebuilding at an other place would not cope with the demand for preservation. Besides, considering the type of construction and the state of these monuments of architecture this way to preserve them would cause enormous damages to the original buildings. Along the Tigris river many people are to be seen. Women do the laundry, children are playing in the water, adults are as well bathing. Along the riverbank at the side of the town are situated several restaurants in the water - formed by simple wooden constructions with a roof of leaves. The people are living on and with the river. The river could not ever be replaced by the planned reservoir. The water quality of the reservoir would be in any case worse than that of the running river. With regard to the aesthetics the reservoir could not compete with the living Tigris either. In the stagnating water waste water would concentrate and it would be a habitat to mosquitoes.

    Following the optical impression the water in the Tigris is of good quality. In spite of the low water level no pollution, waste pipe discharge or concentrations of eutrophic algae are recognisable. The river seems to be rich in fish.

    The alluvial valley of the Tigris at that section is relatively narrow. Especially along the right hand side and sometimes at both sides the river is restricted by rock face. Tributaries often form deeply carved gorges. Upstream of Hasankeyf there are many woody plants, prevailingly willow. Above the regularly flooded area are situated fields and gardens. Especially downstream of Hasankeyf can be found large agricultural areas in the for the flooding designated area of the Ilisu reservoir. Due to the season only few birds could be observed around Hasankeyf. But one can expect that the manifold countryside of the river valley houses a biodiversity that by far exceeds the one of its environs. This is valid as for the flora as for the fauna. Different habitats are to be found close to each other due to the rapidly changing conditions in a river environment.


    Since the Ilisu Dam is going to become the biggest of Turkey all under "3." stated ecological consequences will be valid - the same can be stated for all the other consequences. Differently from the dams on the Euphrates the direct affection of the regional agriculture will be relatively small since no irrigation from the Ilisu reservoir is planned on a great scale . Some individual problems of the dam shall be emphasised in the following.

    The structure will dam up the Tigris on a stretch of 120 km. This will have enormous ecological consequences. The ecological functions of the river will be lost. The waste water discharges by the cities Diyarbakir, Batman and Siirt will even more pollute the river as the self cleaning ability of the river will be considerably reduced on this long stretch. The population of these cities has massively grown in the last few years. Diyarbakir with about 1 million has doubled its population since 1995(!). This means large problems with rubbish and waste water. Until now no water treatment plants do exist. Merely Diyarbakir is planning the construction of a water treatment plant. As this is the only plan of such a plant in the hole region it is rather unlikely that this will solve the problem of water pollution. An other danger to the Tigris as well for the planned Ilisu reservoir is the oil production around the city of Batman. The hauling plants are situated close to the planned Ilisu reservoir, their surroundings are heavily contaminated with oil which would make a pollution of the reservoir very likely.

    That dam would have massive impacts on the household of sediment of the whole Tigris river. Downstream of the dam an increased side and depth erosion of the river bed can be foreseen. A deepened riverbed can lead to a dropping of the ground water level. The intensified side erosion would mean a loss of agricultural land and an increased danger for buildings and bridges. The interruption of the sediment transport would have impacts on the whole river down to the estuary in the Golf of Persia.

    But in the RFE/RL IRAQ Report, Vol.2, No. 26, 16 July 1999 is stated: According to an article that appeared in the May issue of „Turkey Business and Finance" Ilisu will also store water for irrigation. Several questioned have estimated the current population at 1,5 Mill. inhabitants.

    to be continued as soon as possible .

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