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Bridging the GAP

Part 2 in "Village of the Dammed," a blog mini-series from Turkey, on the country's controversial Ilisu Dam. Self-defined...

Part 2 in "Village of the Dammed," a blog mini-series from Turkey, on the country's controversial Ilisu Dam.

Self-defined as a "rather ambitious" project, Turkey's 12-phase energy initiative, called GAP, covers approximately 10% of the total surface area of the country and affects around 10% of the population, or about 6.6 million people. Over much of the surface area affected by GAP, farmland is being submerged and farmers displaced. But, according to the project's rationale, the resulting decrease in agricultural production will be more than offset by an increase in agroindustries. Via GAP, new crops have already been introduced and Turkey has become a supplier of fruit and vegetables to western Europe (namely Germany). Economic development-in this case, what the government hopes will become self-sustaining economic development-leads to opportunities for employment and for education.In major hydropower projects, one dam's function is contingent on others'. Within GAP, the impending Ilisu Dam is a long-planned next step in developing and maintaining GAP's other working parts, and one central to the project's overarching development goals. But studies report that the bounty from GAP has been unevenly distributed. While towns nearest the dams do reap the benefits, other places in the affected region, including the new homes of the displaced, report that nothing has improved. In response to that argument, a former UNDP GAP consultant reminds me, "It's not easy; it doesn't happen overnight." But that isn't enough to stave off opposition from many corners, including some vehement accusations about Ilisu developers' fundamental intentions. Here is a smattering of what the opposition says:Archaeologists: Only a fraction of a massive site replete with archaeological potential has been excavated.Putting an estimated 5,000 caves and countless ancient structures under water after only a handful of frantically focused years of archaeological attention really dampens humanity's ability to glean all that's to gain about Mesopotamian cultural history from this layered site.Reminds us of: China (The Three Gorges Dam's 350-mile long reservoir will submerge 1300 largely unexplored sites, ancient temples and burial grounds along the Yangtze River)Health experts: With new water comes new diseases.Diseases like malaria and leishmaniasis, which have never before afflicted the region, are concomitant to standing water, and increased humitidy levels in the soil. GAP has doubled the amount of irrigated land since its inception, and with unprecidented access to water, mosquitos and bacteria that didn't stand a chance before will thrive.Reminds us of: Ethiopia (Residents of the villages around the Koka and other dams in Africa see a much higher incidence of malaria)Environmentalists and Ecologists: An entire ecosystem will be destroyed. There won't be a natural filter for pollution any more. Dams aren't sustainable.The dam will weaken the river's filtering power upstream, where major cities like Batman and Diyarkbakir contaminate the river with industrial pollutants. Downstream, ecosystems that rely on seasonal flooding will wither, as the dam will prevent floods. Although the area to be submerged is largely arid with little flora and fauna beyond agricultural crops and livestock, plants and animals living in the region will be affected (i.e. drowned).Reminds us of: Vietnam and Brazil (the Nam Theun 2 Dam and the Belo Monte Dam, both still in planning stages, would submerge rainforest and, between the two of them, affect tens to hundreds of endangered species)Iraq: Um, excuse us, what do you think you're doing with our water?The Tigris and Euphretes, both affected by GAP, flow over Turkey's southern borders into Syria and Iraq, and damming them certainly affects the amount of water that will pass through post-Ilisu. British company Balfour Beatty, which pulled out of investing in 2001 due to environmental and humanitarian concerns, argued that dams would actually regulate and equalize the flow south, as much as doubling the amount of water available to the rivers' downstream beneficiaries. That consoling theory didn't stop Iraq from filing a lawsuit, which has been pending in international courts for the past decade.Reminds us of: Egypt (told Israel that its plans to dam the Nile in Ethiopia "would be understood as an act of war"), the US (damming in the American Southwest lead to a lawsuit against the states by Mexico on behalf of the communities that were drying up along with the Colorado River).Human rights advocates: "Resettlement" of these tens or hundreds of Kurdish settlements is a travesty.Opponents cite Turkey's less-than-impeccable track record with major resettlement efforts on past projects, and lament the displacement of thousands by the Ilisu reservoir and the lack of information many are reportedly dealing with. Rumors circulate about violence between Turkish authorities and Kurdish villagers in evacuating for the dam. The Kurdish Human Rights Project fleshes out this issue.Reminds us of: Brazil (the Belo Monte Dam would displace thousands of indigenous peoples who have never lived elsewhere; many are largely uninformed about plans for the dam) and Lesotho (the Lesotho Highlands Water Project was negotiated between South Africa's apartheid regime and corrupt administration in Lesotho in the '80s and carrying it out in its current form would be detrimental to both nations' peoples)Kurdish separatists: Flooding Hasankeyf is a cultural massacre.Drowning a part of "Kurdistan" (for the Kurds, the name of the unrecognized Kurdish nation which exists across southeastern Turkey), is seen by Kurds and their advocates as the government's desperate retalliation against a national security concern. Wiping out Hasankeyf and other Kurdish villages and settlements and fracturing their established community in this region won't do much to sooth the ethnic and political animosity between these long-warring groups.EDIT: The first two paragraphs of this post have been updated to include more information about GAP.

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