Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Kanal İstanbul project will effectively trap 8 million people on a new artificial island in a city notoriously prone to earthquakes and the land prices on its route have already increased by 50 percent, South China Morning Post reported on Sunday.
Then-prime minister Erdoğan had promised the building of a 45km long, 400m wide canal between the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea on the European side of the city as one of his ‘crazy’ mega projects, ahead of the 2011 general elections.
“Opening a new canal parallel to the Bosphorus, which we call ‘Kanal İstanbul’, is my dream. God willing, we will break ground probably at the end of this year or in early 2018,” Erdoğan said in September 2017 at a Turkey-Serbia Business Forum in Belgrade.
The Ministry of Transport announced in December 2017 that the route of the canal would start from the Küçükçekmece Lake in the southern part of the European side of the city and would pass through the districts of Avcılar and Başakşehir before reaching the Black Sea in the Arnavutköy district northwest of the city.
According to the Turkish government, the ambitious project which will accommodate 160 vessel transits per day aims to reduce marine traffic through the Bosphorus strait, one of the busiest waterways in the world.
Cahit Istikbal, a pilot and president of the Turkish maritime safety association, told South China Morning Post that at least two ships run aground every year trying to cross the Bosphorus. “If the question is decreasing the risk of collision in the strait of Istanbul, then yes, Kanal Istanbul will serve its purpose,” he said.
However, many oppose the project because of its environmental and social costs. Building the canal will effectively trap 8 million people on a new artificial island in a city notoriously prone to earthquakes and will threaten the delicate balance of currents and chemicals from the Black Sea to Marmara Sea linked to the Bosphorus, according to South China Morning Post. There are also concerns about the archaeological sites bordering the canal route, such as the Yarımburgaz caves, which are considered the oldest human settlements in Turkey.
While local communities living in the canal’s route wait for their fate and hope that the state will pay their land its real value, prices per square metre have gone up by at least 50 percent in some areas on the route, according to Cihad Aksoy, a real estate agent, who added that 70 percent of those investing in land in the area are from Qatar and Saudi Arabia.