European Governments To Pull Out Of Ilisu Dam?

By sending an Environmental Failure Notice to the Turkish authorities, the governments of Germany, Austria and Switzerland have started the process of withdrawing their financial support for the Ilisu Project in Turkey. This is a fantastic success of the European anti-Ilisu campaigners. While the German government has pushed for this unprecedented step, the attitude of the Austrian and Swiss governments is ambiguous. The next two months will decide over the fate of the project.

If built, the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris will displace more than 50,000 Kurdish people, drown the 10,000-years-old city of Hasankeyf, and cause extensive environmental damage. Faced with strong opposition from affected people and NGOs, the governments of Austria, Germany and Switzerland in March 2007 only approved export credits for the project under 153 conditions.

As I reported earlier in this blog, the independent experts who are monitoring the project have repeatedly made it clear that Turkey is not fulfilling these conditions. Their last fact-finding report concluded that the project “entails serious risk of impoverishment, destitution, and social disorganization for the massive population inhabiting the reservoir”. They left no doubt that the failure in executing the conditions is “a de-facto departure from the legal agreement with the ECAs”.

In a meeting with anti-Ilisu campaigners, Germany’s Under-Secretary of State today announced that the Austrian, German and Swiss governments have officially put Turkey on notice by sending an Environmental Failure Notice to the government in Ankara. Under the loan agreements, Turkey has 60 days left to fulfill the conditions which it failed to implement in the last 18 months.

The Mayor of Hasankeyf, who attended today’s meeting in Berlin, was delighted by the announcement. “The Europeans’ likely pullout is good news for the inhabitants of Hasankeyf and a motivation for us to step up our opposition to the project in Turkey itself. We have been given a real chance to save our home with its nature and cultural heritage that is thousands of years old,” Abdulyahap Kusen commented.

Germany’s development ministry BMZ was the driving force behind the decision to no longer tolerate the social and environmental farce in the Ilisu Project. A spokesperson of BMZ today called the Failure Notice a “very last chance” and made it clear that “our patience has run out”. The Austrian export credit agency OeKB on the other hand didn’t want to call the decision “the beginning of the exit”, and would only say that there was “some need for improvement” in the project. And the Swiss ECA SERV quickly indicated that the 60-days deadline could be extended if necessary.

While the project has not been stopped, today’s step is unprecedented. It came about thanks to the political integrity of Germany’s Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul and her staff, the independence of the official monitoring teams, and most of all, the courageous resistance by the affected people from the Hasankeyf area and the tenacious campaign of the European anti-Ilisu activists: Austria’s Ulrich Eichelmann, who fought the project with single-minded determination and creativity; Germany’s Heike Drillisch, who coordinated campaign efforts on a shoestring budget; Switzerland’s Christine Eberlein, who mobilized no less than 37,000 protest postcards to the Swiss government, and many others.

While the governments particularly in Bern and Vienna continue to waver, the activists in Turkey, Austria, Germany and Switzerland need to keep up their campaign over the next two months in order to prevent a last-minute deal on the back of the affected population. We will help monitoring the project through our contacts from Berkeley.

Peter Bosshard is the policy director of International Rivers. His blog, Wet, Wild and Wonky, appears at