Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Turkey Revives Stalled $32 Billion GAP Dam and Irrigation Project

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Turkey Revives Stalled $32 Billion GAP Dam and Irrigation Project

Article excerpt

Set in a dramatic gorge on the Tigris river, Hasankeyf's ruins date back to Assyrian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman times. But a massive dam and irrigation project could submerge the whole town.

On Tuesday, some 80 years after Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, first proposed tapping the storied Tigris and Euphrates for energy, the government will unveil plans to complete the stalled Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP). The $32 billion project is intended to both provide Turkey with much-needed electricity and to pacify the restive Kurdish southeast, where rebels have capitalized on residents' economic grievances to build support.

But for locals and experts alike, big questions remain about GAP's effectiveness and whether it will be the magic bullet that lifts the southeast out of its long-standing economic and political troubles.

"The real problem with the project is the way it is being run.... Primarily what they did is an engineering project," says Ali Carkoglu, a political science professor at Istanbul's Sabanci University. "They are so preoccupied with conquering the geography that they are forgetting the more human issues," such as giving villages running water or developing local industry.

At least until now, GAP's achievements have made a bigger impact outside the southeast region. While the completion rate for hydroelectric projects, which mostly benefit western Turkey, is approximately 85 percent, the rate for irrigation projects, which are designed to boost agriculture in the arid southeast, is 24 percent.

And a recent study by the Turkish Confederation of Young Businessmen found that despite GAP's $20 billion investment in the southeast over the last two decades, the region's share of the national income is lower today than it was 40 years ago.

Mehmet Acikgoz, GAP's regional director, admits that irrigation had been previously neglected, mostly because of a lack of funding. But, he says, the project is now being approached with a renewed focus.

"One of the project's aims, especially, is to answer the social and economic problems in the region," Mr. Acikgoz said during an interview in his office, outside the southeastern city of Sanliurfa. …

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