Sunday, December 10, 2006

Turkish mayor demands cancellation of Ilisu dam project

Source: AP via International Herald Tribune

VIENNA, Austria: A Turkish official appealed Thursday for the cancellation of a dam project in his country, saying it would destroy cultural heritage and do little to boost economic development.

"Of course we want economic and social development ... but development should not disregard people, nature and history," said Osman Baydemir, president of the Union of South Eastern Anatolia Municipalities and mayor of Diyarbakir.

The Ilisu dam, on the Tigris River 47 kilometers (30 miles) north of the Syrian border, will be one of the largest dams in Turkey and is scheduled to be completed by 2013. A ground breaking ceremony took place in August.

Opponents of the project say it will flood dozens of towns and destroy archaeological treasures including the medieval fortress city of Hasankeyf, which overlooks the Tigris.

"The cultural and historic heritage of Hasankeyf is indescribable. It is not comparable with other places and we have a large responsibility," Baydemir, speaking through a translator, said at a news conference organized by WWF.

Baydemir was in Vienna to lobby against project participation by an Austrian company, Andritz Va Tech Hydro. The company, whose financial involvement totals some €240 million (US$319 million), still needs an export guarantee from the Republic of Austria.

Baydemir argued that funding for the roughly €1.2 billion project should be invested in the region's cities, the construction of an international airport, restoration of cultural heritage sites and tourism.

In prepared English remarks provided later, Baydemir added that 40,000 hectares (98,840 acres) will be affected and that people would be evacuated "without a proper and effective resettlement plan".

Those in favor of the dam say it will create jobs and improve thousands of lives.

Some 40,000 people would benefit from it directly, said Yunus Bayraktar, Turkish project coordinator at a separate news conference at the Turkish Embassy.

Nihat Eri, a Turkish parliamentarian, said Turkey has no choice but to exploit its water resources.

"We have no oil, we have no gas ... the only thing we have is water," Eri said, noting that hydroelectric power was "clean energy".

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