New plan floated in Turkey on Hasankeyf's flood
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 6/28/2010 12:00:00 AM | Erisa Dautaj Şenerdem
A proposal for a series of smaller dams has offered a potential solution to the Hasankeyf deadlock, though some say it might cause more problems than it solves.
A new proposal for a series of smaller dams has offered a potential alternative to the deadlock over the fate of Hasankeyf, though some experts say it might cause more problems than it solves.
The ancient city in the southeastern province of Batman risks being submerged if the controversial Ilısu Dam is constructed on the Tigris River. But a graduate student in construction engineering at Middle East Technical University has suggested the site’s cultural and environmental heritage might be saved by building five smaller dams instead, daily Milliyet reported Monday.
Many activists say, however, that the idea expressed in Emrah Yalçın’s thesis, which was supervised by Professor Şahnaz Tiğrek, would cost the community and the environment too much while furthering the idea that building dams presents a solution to the country’s water and electricity demands.
“[Yalçın’s] thesis carries a symbolic importance, but it does not generate a solution,” Güven Eken, the chair of the Doğa Derneği (Nature Association) told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, adding that five dams on the river and its branches would still pose a threat to the fauna and flora in the Tigris Valley region, even if the structures are smaller in size than the Ilısu Dam.
“Dams have proven not to be a solution, and other energy sources such as wind or solar energy must be used,” said Diren Özkan, an activist with the Save Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley Initiative, adding that the group is cooperating with other organizations in order to bring the Ilısu case to court very soon.
According to Özkan, construction of the Ilısu Dam would force more than 70,000 people who live in the region to migrate to other places, destroy nature and eliminate the region’s tourism income. The activist told the Daily News that construction of the dam is already having unexpected side effects, as buildings have been constructed throughout the Tigris Valley to house workers on the project, creating even more damage.
The Nature Association’s Eken said, however, that a public prestigious university such as METU acknowledging that Hasankeyf risks destruction under the current Ilısu plans was a positive sign.
“The roots of all humanity lie in the Tigris Valley, where the world’s civilizations were born,” Eken said, adding that the valley as a whole, not only the Hasankeyf region, holds significant cultural heritage. Though activists believe Hasankeyf is the only ancient site in the world that fulfills nine out of the 10 possible criteria that could win a region a place on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List, the Turkish government must make the first move, Eken said, adding that the government has not applied to UNESCO for the region’s inclusion on the list because of the Ilısu Dam project, which he said violates many existing laws.
The project for constructing the dam has been exempt from the preparation of an environmental impact report, which is a legal obligation for any project affecting the environment, because it was initially prepared before 1993. Yet there is a very simple legal solution to this loophole, Ümit Şahin, a member of Turkey’s Green Party, told the Daily News: Turkey should sign the Aarhus Convention, which requires the approval of the local inhabitants before making any investment that could affect the environment.
In terms of alternative solutions for the Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley, Eken said the Nature Association had already presented a proposal focused on developing the area by increasing tourism. Once the region is protected by UNESCO, millions of people from all around the world will come to see what the early homes and agricultural sites, Eken told the Daily News. This boom in the tourism sector will increase the number of people employed in the region, improving their standard of living.
“Turkey has a precious treasury in its hands,” Eken said, noting that more than 1 million tourists already visit the region in a year, even without any investment in infrastructure. The area’s ancient sites, trekking areas and canyons offer a wide range of activities, he added.
Şahin from the Green Party said a detailed assessment must be made on how the environment and community would be affected by the construction of the five dams Yalçın suggested in his thesis. He added, however, that the student’s proposal made two important points: First, that there is a general sense that Hasankeyf and the Tigris Valley have been put at risk by the construction of the Ilısu Dam, and that large dams should no longer be used to generate energy.
“That the dams [suggested by Yalçın’s thesis] are smaller in size does not necessarily imply that they will not be harmful, and we are against the construction of dams in general,” Şahin said, adding that they are unsustainable sources of energy that become useless over time due to silt build-up. He also said Turkey must change its wrong-headed policies on energy, including the use of coal and the effort to build a nuclear-power plant.