Municipality of Istanbul pulls out of $15bn shipping canal project

A woman is fishing next to the bosphorus river on November 15, 2017 at Karakoy district in Istanbul. (AFP)
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Updated 08 January 2020

Municipality of Istanbul pulls out of $15bn shipping canal project

  • Scientific findings show the project could prompt quakes, undermine wastewater system, change salinity

ISTANBUL: The municipality of Istanbul is to pull out of a controversial $15 billion project to build a shipping canal on the edge of the city. The announcement, made in Arabic by a spokesman for Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, came a day after Turkish presidential communications director, Fahrettin Altun, released a promotional video of the Canal Instanbul project in Chinese.
Companies from China are expected to shoulder most of the costs of building the 45 km waterway, which will link the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara with the aim of easing shipping congestion in the adjacent Bosphorus.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “dream” megaproject has run into huge opposition from Istanbul citizens over environmental and economic concerns.
The Istanbul municipality’s announcement to withdraw from the scheme, is thought to have been delivered in Arabic in an attempt to dissuade Arab investors from buying land around the “second Bosphorus.”
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) expects the canal to carry up to 160 vessels a day when completed in 2025 and the tendering process for its construction is due to get underway soon after the project was given the green light from the Ministry for Environment and Urban Development.
But critics claim that as well as the cost to the economy, scientific findings have shown the canal could prompt new earthquakes, undermine the city’s wastewater system, change salinity and lead to more cuts in water supplies.
“It’s either the canal or Istanbul. We can’t have both,” Imamoglu said recently, adding that the project was a “betrayal” of the city.

FASTFACT

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party expects the canal to carry up to 160 vessels a day when completed in 2025.

But Erdogan said: “Whether they like it or not, Canal Istanbul is being built.”
In a televised interview on Sunday, the Turkish leader said warships would be able to use the canal, possibly violating the 1936 Montreux Convention, an international agreement aimed at guaranteeing stability and security in the Black Sea region and ensuring the free passage of ships through the Bosphorus, except in times of war.
In 2015, when relations between Turkey and Russia were at an all-time low over the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet by Syrian rebels, a Russian naval ship passed through the Bosphorus with a sailor standing on deck armed with a ground-to-air missile.
Erdogan claims that the Montreux Convention was only “mandatory” for the Turkish straits, and the Canal Istanbul project remained outside of its scope.
With foreign currency reserves in Turkey diminishing and the Turkish lira falling against the dollar and euro, investment in the real estate sector has become the principal way to bring in foreign cash and strengthen the economic parameters ahead of any snap elections.
Economist Mustafa Sonmez told Arab News: “The municipality will not assume any cost of the construction for the Canal Istanbul project because it canceled all the protocols that were signed before, during the rule of the AKP mayorship. This is a project that is being discussed just for rent-seeking and changing the domestic agenda of the country.”
He said the project model was not suitable to be built with a public-private partnership and within the scope of the build-operate-transfer model.
“The contractor cannot be pleased with the passage turnover of the ships, and it would be an unnecessary and risky choice to use the canal as long as the Bosphorus is free of charge.”
He added that if the project costs were met by state resources, it was unclear how it would be financed in the light of economic indicators for the country. Turkey’s central government budget balance recorded a deficit of 92.94 billion Turkish lira ($15.58 billion) in the first 11 months of 2019. The Canal Istanbul project is estimated at costing between $15 billion and $20 billion.


Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

A Yemeni tries to catch locusts on the rooftop of his house as they swarm several parts of the country bringing in devastations and destruction of major seasonal crops. (AFP)
Updated 44 min 4 sec ago

Locust invasion in Yemen stokes food insecurity fears

  • Billions of locusts invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring seasonal crops

AL-MUKALLA: Locust swarms have swept over farms in central, southern and eastern parts of Yemen, ravaging crops and stoking fears of food insecurity.

Residents and farmers in the provinces of Marib, Hadramout, Mahra and Abyan said that billions of locusts had invaded farms, cities and villages, devouring important seasonal crops such as dates and causing heavy losses.
“This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters,” Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, an agricultural official from Hadramout’s Sah district, told Arab News on Sunday.
Images and videos posted on social media showed layers of creeping locusts laying waste to lemon farms in Marb, dates and alfalfa farms in Hadramout and flying swarms plunging cities into darkness. “The locusts have eaten all kinds of green trees, including the sesban tree. The losses are huge,” Abu Baker added.
Heavy rains and flash floods have hit several Yemeni provinces over the last couple of months, creating fruitful conditions for locusts to reproduce. Farmers complained that locusts had wiped out entire seasonal crops that are grown after rains.
Abu Baker said that he visited several affected farms in Hadramout, where farmers told him that if the government would not compensate them for the damage that it should at least get ready for a second potential locust wave that might occur in 10 days.
“The current swarms laid eggs that are expected to hatch in 10 days. We are bracing for the second wave of the locusts.”  
Last year, the UN said that the war in Yemen had disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts and several waves of locusts to hit neighboring countries had originated from Yemen.

This is like a storm that razes anything it encounters.

Hussein Ben Al-Sheikh Abu Baker, a Yemeni agricultural official

Yemeni government officials, responsible for battling the spread of locusts, have complained that fighting and a lack of funding have obstructed vital operations for combating the insects.
Ashor Al-Zubairi, the director of the Locust Control Unit at the Ministry of Agriculture in Hadramout’s Seiyun city, said that the ministry was carrying out a combat operation funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization in Hadramout and Mahra, but complained that the operation might fall short of its target due to a lack of funding and equipment.
“The spraying campaign will end in a week which is not enough to cover the entire plagued areas,” Al-Zubairi told Arab News. “We suggested increasing the number of spraying equipment or extending the campaign.”
He said that a large number of villagers had lost their source of income after the locusts ate crops and sheep food, predicting that the outbreak would likely last for at least two weeks if urgent control operations were not intensified and fighting continued. “Combating teams could not cross into some areas in Marib due to fighting.”
The widespread locust invasion comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) on July 10 sent an appeal for urgent funds for its programs in Yemen, warning that people would face starvation otherwise.
“There are 10 million people who are facing (an) acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in Geneva.