Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has brushed aside legal, environmental and budgetary questions to make his Istanbul canal project a central plank of his re-election bid on June 24, but critics maintain the project will wreck a delicate ecosystem that sustains Europe’s largest city, the Financial Times said.
“There may be a Suez somewhere, a Panama somewhere else, but with Canal Istanbul we will send the world a message,” the FT quoted Erdoğan as saying about the 45-km waterway slated to cut through forests and farmland to forge a new passage between the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara.
Erdoğan says the project is necessary to rescue the busy Bosporus Straits that bisects Istanbul and links the two seas. It is estimated to cost a whopping $250 billion.
The Bosporus remains one of the world’s busiest chokepoints for tankers carrying about 140 million tonnes of oil each year.
But the canal project has polarised Turkey, something that Erdoğan is frequently accused of doing.
While supporters maintain the canal will transform Istanbul into a major transport hub, linking up with the city’s third airport, a new bridge and a motorway that opened in 2016, environmentalists and urban planners argue it will be destructive and that transport infrastructure for the project is already breaking up farm land.
“The canal constitutes an almost inconceivable threat,” the FT quoted Akif Burak Atlar of Istanbul’s Chamber of Urban Planners as saying. “The loss of forests, water reservoirs and farmland means Istanbul will have crossed the sustainability threshold,” he said.
Erdoğan’s critics argue that Turkey cannot afford so many megaprojects and accuse him of imposing his designs on the country.
His supporters, on the other hand, cheer on the new investments that include thousands of miles of roads, new bridges, tunnels and rail tracks, and for supporting the building sector and creating jobs.