UK Government Assesses Impact of Turkey's Ilisu Dam

LONDON, United Kingdom, July 5, 2001 (ENS) - The UK government has issued an Environmental Impact Assessment of the proposed Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River in Turkey. The Ilisu Dam is part of a $1.52 billion hydroelectric project on the Tigris 65 kilometers upstream of the Turkish border with Syria and Iraq.

The Ilisu Dam would create a large reservoir with a surface of 300 km2 at normal storage level and more than 20 islands. It would impound about 135 kilometers (84 miles) of the Tigris River Valley as well as the downstream portions of the major tributaries the Batman, Garzan, and Botan Rivers.

The Environmental Impact Assessment was completed in April, but was not released by the government until July 3.

The assessment follows widespread concern about the environmental impact of building the dam. Balfour Beatty, the British engineering company that plans to build the dam, has applied for a government export credit guarantee of at least $200 million. Without the guarantee of taxpayers' support, the firm may withdraw from the project.


A Kurdish town of about 5,500 people, Hasankeyf dates from at least 10,000 years ago, and has survived to date without destruction. (Photo courtesy Hasankeyf/Ilisu Dam Campaign)
The Ilisu Dam Campaign, a Turkish organization opposed to the dam, says the Ilisu reservoir will flood 52 villages and 15 small towns, including the ancient city of Hasankeyf, affecting tens of thousands of Kurdish people and threatening water conflict with neighboring countries Iraq and Syria.

The report was prepared for export credit agencies and foreign banks to use in evaluating financing for the project. The Ilisu Dam Campaign objects that affected people and NGOs are not given the same information.

The environmental procedures and guidelines of the Export-Import Bank of the United States were used as the main reference, the Ilisu Engineering Group said in the report. The Export-Import Bank has a preliminary commitment of $100 million in loan guarantees to Balfour Beatty to support the project.

The Ilisu Dam is part of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), the largest development project ever undertaken in Turkey. The GAP was initiated in 1978 by the Turkish government to bring the living standards of the nine southeastern Anatolia provinces up to the level of the national socioeconomic average. The goal of the GAP is to develop the energy sector, agriculture, transportation and communication, housing, education and health.

UK ministers will now analyze and assess the Environmental Impact Assessment Report. No decision on Export Credits Guarantee Department cover will be taken until after this process has been completed.

The Export Credits Guarantee Department is the UKís official export credit agency. It is a separate government department reporting to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.


UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt (Photo courtesy UK government)
Patricia Hewitt was appointed Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on June 8, giving her overall responsibility for the Department of Trade and Industry and the Export Credits Guarantee Department.

Public comments on the Ilisu Dam project in view of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report are welcome through September 7. These will be taken into account when the Secretary Hewitt makes her final decision.

The former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Stephen Byers, said that there would be no Export Credits Guarantee Department support for the project unless he was satisfied that four conditions set in December 1999 have been met. The conditions are:

The current Secretary of State maintains the same position and has said that she will only agree support if she is satisfied that the environmental and social impacts of the project are being properly addressed.

Friends of the Earth UK says its preliminary review of the Environmental Impact Assessment summary suggests that it fails to provide assurance that these conditions will be met.

Charles Secrett, director of Friends of the Earth UK said, "Building the Ilisu Dam would damage the environment, destroy historic towns and villages, abuse the human rights of tens of thousands of Kurdish people and threaten regional peace." He expressed hope that the government's announcement of a public consultation signals that "at long last, they too are waking up to these concerns."

This week the Turkish government renewed the State of Emergency covering the region. An Ilisu Dam Campaign fact finding mission to the region last month found that human rights abuses, including torture and suppression of freedom of speech, are still occurring in the region.

The mission has found human rights abuses directly associated with the Ilisu Dam. It also concluded that consultation with affected communities has been grossly inadequate and found evidence of falsification of questionnaire responses. Attempts to save parts of Hasankeyf are inadequate, contravening international standards, campaign investigators found.

But the Turkish government through its Embassy in London replies that only one township will be flooded and that only partially. "Those people who have to be resettled will get financial compensation and, if they want it, fresh land elsewhere. They will be well looked after."


Ancient remains of early settlements would be flooded if the Ilisu Dam is built. (Photo courtesy Ilisu Dam Campaign)
Professor M.R. Izady of the Ilisu Dam Project Campaign says Ilisu is just the biggest of the dams on the Tigris. "Many others have drowned vast portions of that riverís historic basin."

The dam's critics point out that solid waste and wastewater of major cities such as Diyarbakir, with a population of one million, are being dumped into the Tigris River without any treatment. The Ilisu reservoir will reduce the purification capacity of the Tigris, they say.

The Environmental Impact Assessment says that at Diyarbakir the sewage system network is almost completed and the construction of a waste water treatment plant is due to start soon. The commissioning of the primary stage of this plant is expected long before the impounding of the Ilisu reservoir, the report says.

In the other urban centers, the sewage network systems are not sufficient, deficient or non- existent, and no waste water treatment plants exist, the assessment says. New sewage networks and the construction of waste water treatment plants are planned for Batman, Bismil and Siirt, it says.

The report characterizes the land that would be flooded as of "relatively low quality" as compared to the valuable agricultural land to the north of the reservoir.

Kerim Yildiz, director of the Ilisu Dam Campaign said, "We will look very closely at the report to check that it accurately documents Turkey's appalling record on resettlement in past dam projects and reports on continuing human rights abuses in the region. Taking into account both of these factors will be key if the UK is to meet its obligations under international human rights law."

Public comments on the Ilisu Dam project can be submitted by email to:

The Environmental Impact Assessment of the Ilisu Dam is online at:

The Hasankeyf/Ilisu Dam Campaign website is found at: