Erdogan says Turkey will start filling Ilisu dam in June

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey will start filling the Ilisu dam on the Tigris river in June, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday, despite protests from Iraq when the dam briefly began holding back water in mid-summer a year ago.

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections in Istanbul, Turkey, February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

The dam, which will generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity for Turkey’s southeast, has been criticized for its impact both in Turkey and downstream in Iraq.

The Iraqi government says it will create water shortages by reducing flow in one of two rivers which the country depends on for much of its supplies. In Turkey, the Ilisu dam will also displace thousands of people and submerge a town dating back 12,000 years.

Erdogan told an election rally in the southeastern city of Mardin, close to the dam, that the 8.5 billion lira ($1.6 billion) Ilisu project would contribute 1.5 billion lira a year to Turkey’s economy.

“God willing, we will start filling it on June 10,” he said.

Turkey briefly started filling the dam last June, but it halted temporarily a week later after complaints from Iraq about reduced water flows at the height of summer.

Around 70 percent of Iraq’s water flows from neighboring countries, including the Tigris and Euphrates, which run through Turkey.

Since last year, Iraq’s water shortages have led it to take measures such as bans on rice planting and have driven farmers to leave their land. Basra province has seen months of street protests over the lack of clean drinking water.

Campaigners unsuccessfully challenged the dam project at the European Court of Human Rights on grounds it would damage the country’s cultural heritage and violate the right to education.

The court dismissed the case last month, saying heritage protection is the responsibility of Turkish authorities and it had no jurisdiction.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay; editing by Dominic Evans, Larry King