Turkey’s ‘crazy’ canal plan runs into wave of criticism

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Updated 25 December 2019

Turkey’s ‘crazy’ canal plan runs into wave of criticism

  • The mega-project will involve the building of a 45 km shipping canal on the edge of Istanbul that supporters say will rival the Suez Canal

ANKARA: Turkey is hoping to begin work on President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Canal Istanbul — a gigantic shipping project that even the Turkish leader has described as “crazy” — after the scheme was given an environment green light on Monday.

The mega-project will involve the building of a 45 km shipping canal on the edge of Istanbul that supporters say will rival the Suez Canal.

Viewed as a “signature project” by the ruling AKP government, the canal is expected to ease shipping congestion in the adjacent Bosphorus Strait and will carry up to 160 vessels a day when it is completed in 2025.

However, the scale and cost of the project have drawn criticism from several quarters, including Ekrem Imamoglu, Istanbul’s opposition mayor, who says the canal will have a devastating environmental impact and will be difficult to finance.

“This city is a gift of God. Do not betray this city,” he said last month.

Although his concerns have been dismissed by the government, Imamoglu is calling for a referendum on the project, which is expected to cost about $15 billion.

Erdogan has rejected the Imamoglu’s comments, saying: “The mayor is claiming Canal Istanbul is not suitable. Mind your own business.”

However, Yoruk Isik, an Istanbul-based independent geo-analyst, told Arab News that it is unclear if the Canal Istanbul project has received environmental clearance. “It’s more likely that the Turkish president is trying to jump the gun and declare victory on the issue,” he added.

Another concern is that the canal might jeopardize the Montreux Convention, the 1936 agreement that gives Turkey control over the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, limiting warships’ access to the strategic waterways.

Ilker Basbug, Turkey’s former chief of staff, criticized the canal scheme, saying that if conditions change under the project, member states could annul or ignore the convention. 

The agreement allows civilian ships to use the straits in peacetime, but restricts warships’ access to the Black Sea. 

But while the Bosphorus and Dardanelles — both natural waterways — are regulated by the convention, Canal Istanbul, as a man-made canal, would be overseen by Turkish authorities.

“The convention has prevented an arms race in the Black Sea and maintained peace,” Isik said.

According to Isik, Russia views the convention as vitally important to its security and economy, and will never agree to any changes in the agreement.

If the new canal is opened to warships, a serious political crisis could emerge with Russia, Isik said.

“From the historical Turkish perspective, the Montreux Convention (is one of) the founding documents of the Turkish republic. Opening it to discussion is self-defeating and could only be described as a short-sighted domestic policy maneuver,” he said.

The ambitious canal project will also incorporate new residential and business areas, leading critics to claim that it is a “real estate” project.

Financing of the canal in a country where economic deterioration has become widespread, is also a divisive issue.


Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

Updated 33 min 36 sec ago

Protests hinder Yemen’s efforts to combat coronavirus

  • Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting

AL-MUKALLA: As workers in Yemen’s major port Aden began preparing a coronavirus quarantine facility at Al-Sadaqa Hospital, rumors swirled around the city claiming that if patients were locked inside the hospital, the disease would quickly spread through neighboring areas. 

Amid complaints about the city’s poor health facilities, hospital staff and fearful residents began protesting. People living nearby besieged the hospital, while health workers inside staged a sit-in, refusing to work unless the Health Ministry canceled plans to build the isolation room.

“They threatened to kill me,” Dr. Wafaa Dahbali, Al-Sadaqa Hospital manager, told Arab News.

The hospital’s administration was forced to ask the Health Ministry to move the facility to another location, she said.

“Now we cannot even bring in basic protective items such as masks or gloves since workers will think we still plan to build the quarantine room,” she added.

Yemen, which is gripped by a civil war that has killed thousands of people since late 2014, has intensified efforts to counter coronavirus. But due to crumbling heath services, lack of awareness among people and the influx of hundreds of African migrants via the southern coastline, health officials fear the virus could spread undetected across the country.

Yemen’s Ministry of Health in Aden on Wednesday said that Yemen is free of the disease and all Yemenis returning from China had tested negative. Health Minister Nasir Baoum opened a quarantine center at Seiyun Airport in the southeastern province of Hadramout on Sunday, and said that he had ordered all sea, land and air entry points to ramp up detection measures.

Financial constraints

Health officials across Yemen told Arab News this week that health facilities are working at full capacity to cope with the influx of war casualties, and cases of seasonal diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and H1N1.

The appearance of coronavirus in Yemen would increase the burden on the country’s crumbling and cash-strapped health facilities, they said.

Ibn Sina Hospital in Al-Mukalla provides health services to patients from the three southern provinces of Hadramout, Shabwa and Mahra in addition to treating victims of the conflict in Abyan and Jawf. 

Recently the Health Ministry decided to build a quarantine center at the hospital. Lacking sufficient space, a three-room kitchen was turned into an isolation facility.

However, Dr. Alabed Bamousa, the hospital’s director, told Arab News that the facility could not afford to furnish the unit with medical equipment and staff lacked proper know-how.

“We have nothing at the moment. We asked the ministry for the names of health workers who would be trained by the World Health Organization on dealing with coronavirus patients,” Bamousa said.

He said that workers are not being encouraged to wear masks and gloves in order to avoid triggering panic. 

“My viewpoint is that we shut up till we are ready,” Bamousa said.

Health officials at Al-Mukalla, one of Yemen’s busiest ports, have asked sailors to complete declarations showing their movements before docking.

Riyadh Al-Jariri, head of the Health Ministry’s Hadramout office, said that teams of six health workers in each district in the province are visiting Yemenis who have returned from China. 

In the streets, people say that they get information about the virus from social media rather than official channels or local media outlets.

Hassan, a shopkeeper, said that he learned about symptoms of coronavirus and protection measures from WhatsApp. 

“I know that the virus targets the lung and causes fever. We are advised to wash hands and wear marks,” he said.