Balfour Beaten

After a year and a half the Ilisu Dam Campaign has succeeded - on 13 November the main contractors, Balfour Beatty, pulled out of the scheme along with Italian partner Impregilo. It now seems likely that the dam will not be built - other European firms are unlikely to be interested now that Balfour have pulled out.

If the dam, planned for the Kurdish region of southeast Turkey, had gone ahead it would have made more than 30,000 local people homeless and drowned dozens of towns and villages including the world historic site of Hasankeyf.

The Ilisu Dam Campaign used many tactics, including the credible threat of legal action, press coverage, political work, letter writing, demonstrations, public meetings, coalition building, international networking and shareholder activism. Ilisu and Balfour Beatty's application for support from the Export Credit Guarantee Scheme grew into a scandal large enough to leave even Tony Blair with egg on his face after publicly pushing for the ECGD to support the project to the tune of $200m before human rights considerations had been satisfied.

Executive Director of the Kurdish Human Rights Project and Chair of the Ilisu Dam Campaign, Kerim Yildiz, expressed his delight at the news; "Balfour Beatty's withdrawal has vindicated what we at the Campaign have been saying all along: that the Ilisu dam would be a human rights, environmental and cultural disaster. This Campaign, strengthened by the unity of human rights and environmental groups working together, has helped to establish a precedent in sending a clear message to governments and companies that projects like Ilisu are simply not acceptable. This Campaign not only stopped the Ilisu dam but has also helped to establish the beginnings of a democratic platform in Turkey where people can discuss possible alternatives to disastrous projects like Ilisu."

The campaign is now calling for the lessons of Ilisu to be learned; for the ECGD and other export credit agencies to adopt legally-binding human rights, environment and development standards so that other "Ilisus" cannot happen in future. To this end, the coalition that founded the Ilisu Dam Campaign - the Kurdish Human Rights Project, Friends of the Earth, The Cornerhouse and Mark Thomas - is going to be campaigning on other projects in the region. One, the Yusefeli dam, would be built by UK firm AMEC and partly financed with a £68 million ECGD credit. Another, the BP-promoted Baku-Ceyhan oil and gas pipeline, will cut through the Kurdish regions of Turkey, raising human rights and environmental concerns.

Based on articles from Corporate Watch and Friends of the Earth

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© Networking Newsletter (December 2001)