Turkey held its first tender on March 26 to build a huge canal on the edge of Istanbul, despite widespread criticism over its cost and environmental impact.
The tender is for the planning phase of reconstructing two historic bridges located in the area where the 45-km Kanal Istanbul, championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is expected to run.
The canal will connect the Black Sea north of Istanbul with the Marmara Sea to the south and is estimated to cost 75 billion lira ($11.6 billion). The government says it will ease shipping traffic on the Boshphorus Strait and prevent accidents there.
But the canal has been criticized by opponents who say it will wreak environmental havoc and pollute fresh water resources.
Five companies bid on March 26 for the planning of the reconstruction of the historic Odabaşı and Dursunköy bridge, state-run Anadolu Agency said. The valid bids ranged from 408,000 lira ($63,500) to 550,000 lira.
The project, which was effectively on hold after a currency crisis in 2018 drove the economy into recession, came back on the agenda in December, leading to heated exchanges between Erdoğan and Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Spending resources on canal while combating coronavirus ‘mind boggling,’ says mayor
İmamoğlu said spending resources on the canal while Turkey combats the coronavirus outbreak was “mind boggling,” adding that 50,000 families had applied to the Istanbul municipality for support due to the economic impact of the pandemic.
“For these road [bridge reconstruction] projects, 8 billion lira has been allocated from the 2020 budget. But today, there are millions of people who about to lose their lives [due to the coronavirus outbreak] or cannot earn an income as their businesses have been closed in Turkey and Istanbul,” İmamoğlu said in a video on March 26.
“Why don’t we spend our resources for our people instead of spending our resources on Kanal Istanbul, which to us is a weird project?” he said.
Responding to İmamoğlu’s comments, the Transport Ministry said in a statement the tender was previously scheduled and did not hinder the government’s efforts to contain the outbreak.
The ministry said İmamoğlu’s “political opportunism” was more damaging to the battle against coronavirus, adding that calling for a halt in production and investments at such a time was wrong.
Gov’t taking advantage of current climate of fear, say experts
Several experts have similarly criticized the government’s move regarding the tender, with one saying: “Citizens are in fear; they are thinking of how to pay the bills, their rent [amid coronavirus outbreak]. Despite all the risks, workers are obliged to work, whereas the ruling government holds Kanal Istanbul tender.”
The head of the Chamber of Architects, Eyüp Muhcu, told dailly Evrensel that the government was taking advantage of the current climate of fear due to the disease.
“They [the gov’t officials] are committing a crime against human life. What if this crisis had come after Kanal Istanbul had destroyed the city’s water resources,” Muhcu said, referring to several experts’ warning that Kanal Istanbul project will damage the city’s water resources.
“We have previously said that Kanal Istanbul project will destroy the ecological balance, damage water resources and pollute the air; we have therefore filed a lawsuit against the project. But, despite the ongoing process of these lawsuits, the authorities’ holding a tender, and especially at such a time, is a scandal and an insult to the public,” Muhcu said, adding that the government’s current move is “crazier than even the project itself.”
“Ya Kanal Ya Istanbul” (“Either Canal or Istanbul”) Platform – an initiative formed against the project – prepared a video featuring deputies of the CHP and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), calling on the government to cancel the tender and instead use the resources for the public health.
“The budget allocated for coronavirus is 110 billion lira, and the budget allocated for the canal project is 110 billion lira. Cancel the canal project and use the budget for the public health. In a time when we need water resources so much for our health, you will destroy our waters,” said the deputies in the video.