Water is likely to be a major cause of international conflicts in the 21st Century...Ilisu must be considered a political project predominantly motivated by the strategic interest of the Turkish government to strengthen its position vis-à-vis Syria and Iraq, and to control the unruly Kurdish areas. The environmental problems of the project are unresolved and no lessons from the abysmal social record of earlier GAP projects have been learnt.

Statement by Berne Declaration, a Swiss public-interest group of 16,000 people.

As part of the Southeastern Anatolia or GAP project consisting of dams and power plants in the Kurdish region of Turkey, the Turkish government is planning a dam at Ilisu on the Tigris river, 65 kilometres upstream from the Syrian and Iraqi border. An international debate has emerged between private sector contractors, governments and NGOs in several European countries around the political, social, environmental and cultural implications of the dam. 

The issues
As of January 2000, some of the concerns raised during 1998 and 1999 by the media and NGOs were in the process of being addressed. Serious issues, however, remained unresolved in the areas of:
• Conflict: the project has already been criticised for exacerbating civil conflict between the Kurdish people, specifically the PKK guerrilla movement, and the Turkish state. Several NGOs argue that the building of the dam will provide an opportunity for ‘ethnic cleansing’ and removal of Kurdish populations from the area. There are also serious concerns about increased tensions between Turkey and its neighbours, given its upstream position on the Tigris river and potential ability to pressurise or blackmail the other riparian countries. NGOs claim that the proposed project contravenes core provisions of the UN
Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of Transboundary Waterways (signed in 1997 by 103 UN members with the exception of Turkey, China and Burundi). The dam has attracted protest from the Syrian and Iraqi governments and the Arab League. The British government, among others, has called for public assurance from the Turks that downstream flows will be
maintained at all times;
• Human rights: in particular the appropriate level of consultation and compensation of local populations and the need to develop a comprehensive and internationally acceptable resettlement plan, including public agreement on how many people will be affected (a number which differs widely depending on the source but is estimated to be between 12,000-25,000 people);
• Culture: in particular better consultation, agreement and plans on how to preserve as much as possible of the archeological heritage of the ancient, part-Kurdish town of Hasenkeyf, which is currently threatened by the dam; 
• Environment: concerns here are wide ranging, but focus in particular around issues of water quality, the need for waste water treatment plants, the possible increase in infestations of malaria and leishmaniosis, and the danger of sedimentation. 

The international actors
A variety of environmental and human rights NGOs have been actively campaigning against the project. These include: Friends of the Earth; the Kurdish Human Rights Project; Amnesty International; and the Swiss-based Berne Declaration. Their key targets have been:
• The governments and export credit agencies (ECAs) of Austria, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. The World Bank declined to fund GAP projects in 1984 and will not become involved in Ilisu. External financing will therefore depend on official export credits and guarantees from these ECAs to private companies in their respective countries that have been contracted to the Build-Operate-Transfer scheme for the dam; 
• Private contractors that have been involved to-date. These include: Sulzer Hydro and ABB Power Generation (Switzerland); Balfour Beatty (UK); Impregilo (Italy); Skanska (Sweden) and Nurol, Kiska and Tekfen (Turkey). Union Bank of Switzerland has been arranging the finance package.

In July 2000, a cross-border parliamentary committee of the British House of Commons recommended that the government should block an application by Balfour Beatty for export guarantees to help cover its part in the international consortium. 

The NGO campaign has raised growing questions for western governments and the OECD on the value and appropriateness of export guarantee programmes in general. The Financial Times newspaper argued in a July 14 2000 editorial, linked to the Ilisu dam, that such guarantees can lead to waste, distorted markets, inappropriate projects in developing countries and even corporate bribery and corruption.

The above example illustrates the varied and complex range of issues, actors and countries involved in one strategic infrastructure project. A project that on the surface has great potential to bring economic growth and progress to the surrounding region, but on further analysis has even greater potential to create internal and cross-border conflict. 


The above material is extracted from Chapter 5.3 ("Developing a nation's strategic assets") of: 

The Business of Peace: The private sector as a partner in conflict prevention and resolution  

Jane Nelson/The Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum [now International Business Leaders Forum], International Alert, Council on Economic Priorities, 2000, p. 85.

© 2000 The Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum, International Alert, Council on Economic Priorities