Rt. Hon. Jeremy Hunt MP
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
10 June 2019
Dear Foreign Secretary,
The Ilisu Dam: a critical juncture
Over the past two decades, we have written to your predecessors on numerous occasions to express our grave concerns over the adverse environmental, social and geopolitical impacts of the Ilisu Dam on the River Tigris in Turkey, which is now nearing completion. The Turkish Government has now announced its intention to start filling the reservoir on or after 10 June 2019.
You will recall that in 2001 the UK construction company Balfour Beatty, which had been seeking UK export credit support for the project, withdrew from the project after parliamentarians, experts and non-governmental organisations had expressed their opposition. Since then, other EU companies have also withdrawn due to environmental, human rights, cultural heritage and other concerns.
The dam was planned without consultation with downstream states, in contravention with international customary law. Even today, decades after construction began, there is no agreement between Turkey, Syria and Iraq on downstream flows; this despite expert reports suggesting that operation of the dam, in conjunction with a further planned project at Cizre, could reduce the flow of the Tigris during dry years to a trickle. There is a very real fear that the project could seriously jeopardizing the water supply of major Iraqi towns, and put agriculture downstream at risk. The UNESCO site of Mesopotamian Marshes in southern Iraq would be threatened with drying out due to reduced downstream flows. The potential for the dam to exacerbate existing regional conflicts, not least over water, is thus severe, a threat recognised by the FCO under previous administrations.
The dam is opposed internationally. Indeed, the announcement of the proposed filling of the reservoir caused protests in Turkey, Iraq, continental Europe and the UK. A particular focus of concern is the loss of the ancient city of Hasankeyf, a site of international historical and cultural importance whose flooding (should the reservoir be filled) would be a loss not just to the region but to humanity as a whole. The threat posed by the Ilisu Dam project prompted the World Monuments Fund to list the city on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world. Continue reading