Blair urged to drop support for Turkish dam

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Three of Britain's most senior Cabinet ministers are pressing Tony Blair to drop his support for building the controversial Ilisu dam in Turkey.

Three of Britain's most senior Cabinet ministers are pressing Tony Blair to drop his support for building the controversial Ilisu dam in Turkey.

And this week they will have tacit support from Nelson Mandela and the biggest international investigation into dams. The former South African President is the patron of the investigation, done by a commission that brought together dambuilders and protestors and will reveal its final report in London on Thursday.

Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary who makes the decision, Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, want the Government to scrap plans to provide £200m in credits towards the £1.47bn dam, which would drown one of the world's oldest towns and flood nearly 80,000 people out of their homes.

Mr Byers, after an intervention by the Prime Minister, said last December that the government was "minded" to give an export credit guarantee to Balfour Beatty, the British firm heading the consortium planning to build the dam, to enable work to start.

The Swedish construction giant Skansa has pulled out of the deal saying it "will abstain from participating in construction projects when, in our judgement, a project will result in serious risks to the environment or society". The World Bank has shunned the scheme because it violates its ethical and environmental codes. But extraordinarily, while Cabinet ministers are trying to stop Britain supporting the dam, some junior ministers are pressing for it.

Richard Caborn, the trade minister, is a strong supporter, and Whitehall sources say Nick Raynsford, the construction minister, persuaded Mr Blair to back it in the first place.

Tony Juniper, policy director of Friends of the Earth, said yesterday: "It is remarkable, when the Government is trying to implement a foreign policy with an ethical dimension, that the interests of the construction industry are being promoted by junior ministers. They are in danger of wrecking the Government's credibility in the runup to a general election, soon after the Prime Minister has given a speech setting out his green credentials."

On Thursday, James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, and Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, will speak at the launch of the report of the World Commission on Dams.

Though the report does not focus on Ilisu directly, it will issue guidelines for dambuilding that would stop it. The report aims to alter perceptions that dams are merely engineering projects, and to ensure they fit with international emphasis on human rights and environmentally sound development.

It pays particular attention to the loss of cultural heritage under the reservoirs dams create. The Ilisu project would drown the ancient settlement of Hasankeyf, 14 other towns and 52 villages.

The report says local people should participate in decisions on dams in their areas, rather than having them imposed on them, and ethnic minorities should be particularly protected. The Turkish dam would displace tens of thousands of Kurds, who says they have never been consulted. And the commissioners also set out to change the attitudes of government export credit agencies - such as Britain's Export Credit Guarantee Department, which is pushing the project - so they stop supporting doubtful schemes.

In a startling new departure, the report will also undermine one of the major justifications for dams, that they provide green energy which does not contribute to global warming.

Research done for the report shows that rotting vegetation covered by the waters release carbon dioxide and methane, which both help cause the climate change.

In some places, particularly shallow reservoirs in the tropics, this may actually cause more pollution than producing the same amount of energy from conventional power stations burning fossil fuels.

The commission, headed by Professor Kadar Asmal, South Africa's education minister, has brought together fierce opponents in a consensus on the future of dams. The commissioners, all working experts in the area, include Göran Lindahl, president of ABB, a leading dambuilding company, and Medha Patkar, the outspoken founder of the campaign against India's Narmada Dam.

Other commissioners include the chair of Oxfam International, the chief executive of Australia's Murray-Darling Basin Commission, and China's director-general of water resources.