Activists: Controversial Turkish dam is being filled with water

ISTANBUL: Turkey started filling its Ilisu dam on the Tigris river with water nearly two weeks ago, an activist said on Saturday.
The Ilisu dam project has been met with strong local and international opposition over environmental damage and the reduction of water flow into water-poor neighbouring Iraq.
“Water has been constantly rising at the dam since July 22,” said Ali Ergul, a member at Hasankeyf Coordination, an Istanbul-based group of activists.
“We understand that all floodgates are now closed for permanent water build-up,” Ergul said, contradicting an official source who said that the water build-up had been a “test filling.”
An official from Turkey’s State Hydraulic Works (DSI) who asked to remain anonymous said in July that two gates were already closed and water build-up would start “very, very soon.” The construction of Ilisu started in 2006 in south-eastern Turkey.
Once the water build-up is complete, a 300-square-kilometre reservoir is expected to flood the archaeologically important town of Hasankeyf.
“The residents in the area are concerned their villages will be submerged faster than they expected. Many are still awaiting government to relocate them to new residential centres,” Ergul added.
The project means resettling more than 15,000 residents.
Turkey argues the 1,820-metre-long, 135-metre-high dam would be a significant source of hydroelectric power.
Meanwhile, a new levy on Turkey’s tourism industry will hit hotels and travel agencies from October, squeezing businesses which have been forced to offer hefty discounts to overcome a slump in visitor numbers three years ago.
Half-year figures released this week show a healthy 13 per cent increase in foreign arrivals to Turkey, while a 10 per cent jump in revenue for the sector to $12.6 billion has given a valuable boost to an economy still stuck in recession.
But the levy announced in mid-July, which requires hotels and travel companies to pay up to 0.75 per cent of their total revenues to Turkey’s newly founded Tourism Promotion and Development Agency will significantly erode profit margins, businesses say.
Turkey’s tourism sector was battered in 2016 after a series of bombings, a failed military coup and a crisis with Moscow after Ankara shot down a Russian jet on the Syrian border. Many firms were forced to slash prices to lure visitors and figures show average spend per tourist is still down by a third from its peak of $974 in 2013.
Muberra Eresin, head of the Hotel Association of Turkey, said the fact that the levy would be calculated from total revenues meant even loss-making businesses would be forced to pay.
— Agencies