Turkey Denies Adverse Impact of Damming

Turkey claims figures from its own research show no environmental fallouts as a result of its excessive dam building
Construction site of Ilisu Dam (Photo: National Geographic)Construction site of Ilisu Dam (Photo: National Geographic)
Turkey's ambassador to Iran says criticisms of his country's dam construction constitute attacks on Ankara

Despite evidence to the contrary, Turkish Ambassador in Tehran Reza Hakan Tekin has denied assertions that his country’s excessive damming and development of hydropower plants have severely reduced water flow to neighboring Iraq and Syria.

Citing research conducted by Ankara, Tekin told Mehr News Agency that Turkey’s dam building “has had no environmental impacts downstream, meaning in Iraq and Syria.”

“In fact, the dams help with water management and we’re now able to release water (in Tigris and Euphrates) in times of drought to countries downstream,” he said.

In May, Iran-based NGO Mianroudan (meaning Mesopotamia), started an online petition imploring the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to pressure Turkey to abandon its “destructive” dam construction.

“The destructive consequences of Turkey’s damming are worsening living conditions in Iraq and Syria, both of which are embroiled in wars ... [Turkey’s damming] is a threat to human rights,” the NGO said in its petition.

Calling these types of complaints “attacks on Turkey”, Tekin pointed to the plethora of dams in Iran, saying that “it is easy to blame a country but take a look at your own policies”.

He said 10% of water that flows into Tigris come from rivers in Iran, on which Tehran has built dams. This is while environmental officials, water experts and activists have never shied away from criticizing unrestrained dam construction in Iran, particularly by the past two administrations.

In some instances, dams have been opened to release water into key wetlands, such as Urmia Lake in northwestern Iran and the Hamouns in the southeast.

Since 1975, Turkey’s extensive dam and hydropower construction projects have reportedly reduced water flows into Iraq and Syria by approximately 80% and 40% respectively, according to the independent Australian research institute, Future Directions International.

“One of the main sources of sand and dust storms is Iraq where the flow of rivers has decreased because of the race for dam constructions in upstream countries,” Enric Terradellas, a meteorologist with the World Meteorology Organization’s Sand and Dust Storm Prediction Center for the region, told BBC News last year. As part of its ambitious Southern Anatolia Project, Turkey has planned the construction of 22 dams. Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates, which was filled up in 1992, has a capacity of 48 billion cubic meters, while Ilisu Dam on Tigris’ tributaries, once complete, will hold 10.4 bcm of water. Tekin said his country “is ready for dialogue” but when asked whether Turkey would uphold the water rights of downstream countries if set and approved by international organizations, he said Ankara “would never give up sovereignty over its water”.

“It is not a product that we share with international institutions. However, we’ll never completely cut off water supply even when we’re struggling with drought,” he said.

Iran hosted a major international conference on dust and sand storms from July 3 to 5, which was attended by officials and experts from the United Nations and about 40 countries, including Turkey.

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