31 May 2011

Turkey's Great Leap Forward risks cultural and environmental bankruptcy

Thousands of dam and hydropower schemes are being built on almost all of the main rivers in a pharaonic push to make Turkey a world economic power by the centenary of the republic in 2023.

The ruling AK party, expected to win a record third term in next month's elections, is forcing through a series of gigantic public works projects that include three nuclear power plants – despite Turkey being one of the most seismically active nations on earth.

Erdogan near the Alkumru dam

The first plant, a prototype Russian reactor on the Mediterranean coast near the port of Mersin, is close to a highly active faultline. A second, Japanese-built, plant will soon follow on the Black Sea near the city of Sinop.

Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised eyebrows across the world last month by promising to cut a 40-mile canal between the Black Sea and Marmara to relieve the dangerously overcrowded Bosphorus strait, an idea even he calls his "crazy plan". He has since topped that by revealing a blueprint for two new cities to relieve earthquake-prone Istanbul. Critics say they will only further extend Europe's largest megalopolis, home already to nearly 17 million people.

It is Erdogan's declaration that Turkey's rivers must no longer "run in vain" and 100% of its hydroelectric potential be harnessed over the next 12 years that has environmentalists most worried. They claim that the rush for hydropower is likely to be even more damaging to Turkey's delicate ecological balance, where desertification and depopulation are already problems.

Full story on The Guardian