Kanal Istanbul to cause extensive, irreversible harm, say academics

The damage brought on by Kanal Istanbul to the city and Turkey’s overall economy and foreign policy, as well as the environment, will be irreversible, according to 21 academics involved in a report organised by the Society for the Protection of Nature (DHKD).

According to the report, the artificial waterway project creating a second connection between the Black and Marmara seas through Istanbul’s last remaining forest areas in the megacity’s northern region will carry pollution-laden shore waters of the Black Sea into the delicate ecosystem of the Marmara Sea.

New urban development brought on by the third bridge on the Bosporus strait, the massive new Istanbul Airport and the Kanal Istanbul projects will result in the loss of unique marine life off the city’s shores, as well as the last remaining forests of the 8.5-millenia-old city, as its population of over 15 million rises to further abnormal highs, the report said.

The damage to Istanbul’s groundwater will damage the northern Thrace region’s fertile lands significantly, rapidly deteriorating part of the 66,000 hectares of arable land located mostly in the northern part of the city.

Further development along the canal will exacerbate the loss of agricultural plots.

Any leaks from the canal to Istanbul’s groundwater reserves will result in an irreversible salinisation in the European side of the city, and considering the fact that a significant portion of its potable water comes from bored wells, the city will be risking water shortages.

The canal will also make an island out of Istanbul’s European side, which will force the wildlife to adapt to an island ecosystem or perish, having lost the ability to travel back and forth deep into Thrace.

“In such an island that is expected to surrender completely to an urban landscape, plant and animal species dependant on the land cannot be expected to continue their existence, nor migratory birds to land and take off,” the report said. 

Storks and birds of prey that pass through Istanbul during their migration to Africa will face hardship crossing the sea, it added.

Istanbul’s carbon footprint will increase by almost half, from 49 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to approximately 71.3 million with the projected increase in the city’s population, before the impact of motor vehicles crossing the Northern Marmara Expressway, ships crossing the canal and flights to and from the new airport.

“Making decisions to further increase this level instead of measures to lower it will result in negative consequences for Istanbul, our country and the world in the long term,” the report said.

The canal will inevitably face large-scale earthquakes, geology professor Naci Görür told Ahval. 

A possible earthquake of 7.3 magnitude in the Marmara region, caused by a break in the North Anatolia Fault (NAF), is expected to occur off the shore of Istanbul’s Silivri district, which will constitute the eastern side of the canal if the project is completed. Such an earthquake would have an impact of over 10 on the Richter scale on the canal, according to Görür.

A slide, break or twist in the canal’s structure in case of an earthquake would cause large-scale disaster in itself, Görür added.

“Another concern is the increased risk in case of an earthquake due to increased population density,” Görür said, advising a reduction in population density for earthquake-prone regions like Istanbul.

The canal’s supporters disregard the risk of economic loss alongside the environmental devastation, economics professor Fikret Adaman told Ahval.

Artificially connecting two ecologic entities like the Marmara Sea and Black Sea will trigger complex ecological, social and economic developments, and probably result in severe damage, according to Adaman.

“A canal to cross through the Çatalca peninsula will create serious pressure on the ecological balance of the region, starting with the groundwater,” Ataman said.

The allocation of Turkey’s resources to the canal will deprive other areas of the resources they need,  Ataman added.

There is a grand river with a flow rate of 300 million cubic meters per day, 30 metres deep in the Bosporus strait, oceanographer Cemal Saydam told Ahval.

The canal project has not been researched and its impact on the hydrodynamic entity of the Bosporus is unknown, Saydam said. Launching the Kanal Istanbul project before an exploration of the project’s impact on the hydrodynamics of the Bosporus “should be seen as a great mistake against Istanbul,” the professor added.

Due to limitations of Istanbul’s resources, potable water is brought at high costs from the Melen River in the neighbouring eastern province of Düzce, Saydam said. 

Some 46 percent of Istanbul lies on water basins, where development is banned by the city’s urban masterplan. There are seven basins in and around the city, with lakes, dams and basins providing 72.4 percent of Istanbul’s potable water.

The proposed route for the canal crosses through the Küçükçekmece Lake, rendering defunct the Sazlıdere Dam, which currently constitutes 10.2 percent of the water resources close to the city. The dam, inaugurated in 1998 with billions of liras of investment, is still at the early stages of its period of usability, according to Saydam.

Large-scale constructions like the Istanbul-Thrace Railroad, TEM Highway, E5 Highway, several important roads, the historic water gallery of Terkos-Alibey, dozens of key potable water distribution lines, and the Ataköy waste water collection plant will need to be moved for the canal, Saydam added.

The success of Kanal Istanbul rests on the assumption that ships will use the artificial waterway instead of the Bosporus, which ships can’t be forced to because of the Montreux Convention and international law, World Wildlife Fund Turkey Director Sedat Kalem told Ahval.

Forcing foreign ships to use Kanal Istanbul will negatively affect the military balance established and maintained by the Montreux Convention, which limits military vessels by weight and type, and stipulates that vessels from countries other than those with borders on the Black Sea can only remain in the Black Sea for a maximum of 21 days, maintaining security for Turkey and its northern neighbours.

Turkey could be held responsible for environmental damage to neighbouring countries on the Black Sea coast, based on the fundamental no-harm principle in international law, whereby states are duty-bound to prevent, reduce and control risk of environmental harm to other states, United Nations International Law Commission member Nilüfer Oral told Ahval.

The 1992 Bucharest Convention on the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution signed by Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Bulgaria and Romania requires neighbouring countries to consult with other neighbours in matters that affect the Black Sea, Oral said.

Accordingly, Turkey may be in violation of its legal obligations if it embarks on the Kanal Istanbul project without informing, consulting with, and establishing technical cooperation with the remaining five countries, she said.