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Thursday, 16 November, 2000, 17:02 GMT
UK urged to drop dam project
River Tigris
The Ilisu dam would divert the River Tigris
Environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) is asking the UK Government not to assist in the building of a controversial dam in Turkey.

The government has indicated that it is prepared to underwrite UK construction companies which have contracts to work on the Ilisu Dam.

The Turkish Government says the dam will be a catalyst for development in a neglected region, but FoE and other critics say its reservoir will make up to 15,000 people homeless.

Hasankeyf
The ancient town of Hasankeyf would be submerged
A report published on Thursday by the World Commission on Dams (WCD) has added fuel to the debate. It says dams provide many benefits, but often at too high a price.

A British construction firm, Balfour Beatty, has already requested a credit guarantee of 200m (US$320 million) to enable it to become part of the consortium building the dam.

Opponents say as a result of its construction, dozens of Kurdish towns along the valley of the River Tigris in south east Turkey will be flooded, including the historic town of Hasankeyf.

They also say it could raise regional tensions by restricting the supply of water to neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

Legal challenge

In a letter to the Trade and Industry Secretary, Stephen Byers, FoE warn that if the government goes ahead with its plan to assist, it will be helping Turkey break international law.

The group's spokesman, Tony Juniper, said the project failed on all counts to meet the best practice standards set out by the WCD.

He said FoE believed the new report strengthened its position.

Tony Juniper
Tony Juniper wants the government to think again

"If the project does go ahead with British support following the release of this document from the World Commission on Dams we think that will further bolster the legal arguments we have," he said.

"Should British support be granted for Balfour Beatty we will certainly be examining whether we have grounds for judicial review."

In March a report by the Commons all-party Trade and Industry Select Committee also criticised the project.

The government responded by pledging to get assurances from Turkey that the resettlement of Kurds would include appropriate safeguards.

The WCD report said decisions on whether to build the structures should respect the interests of everyone concerned.

They say dams account for more than 10% of global food production and almost 20% of electricity generation. But the people affected by them have little say in their planning and building.

The WCD was set up by the World Bank and the World Conservation Union to find a way through "the increasingly confrontational debate about the role the 45,000 large dams have played in development".

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See also:

16 Nov 00 | World
Human cost of dams 'too high'
12 Jul 00 | UK Politics
MPs' anger over Turkish dam
23 Dec 99 | UK Politics
Blair under fire over Turkish dam
01 Mar 99 | Middle East
Turkish dam gets UK support
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