In the run-up to the parliamentary elections in June this year, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced his "crazy project" he had already been hinting on for the past couple of months: "Kanal Istanbul".
"We will open a canal between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea on the European side [of the city]. The channel will have its starting point in Silivri at the Sea of Marmara", Erdoğan declared.
Calling himself and his party, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), "environmentalists" in respect to the future project and previous achievements, Erdoğan gave an overview of the plan.
"This is a multi-dimensional project. This is a project of energy, transport, public works, agriculture, education and employment at the same time. This project is a project of urbanization, a family project, a project of housing. Most important, it is a project of the environment. This is a project to preserve the nature, sea, water resources, green areas, the flora and fauna of Istanbul and its surroundings", Erdoğan said.
Length of the canal: 40 - 50 kilometres
"Rivers flow through many cities in this world but there is only one unique city like Istanbul that has the sea flowing through. With this project, Istanbul will be turned into a city that has two seas flowing through it".
"There will be one island and two peninsulas. We will make a canal with the length of approximately 40 to 50 kilometres (25 to 30 miles). We will dig the 'Kanal Istanbul' for Istanbul".
"We are rolling up our sleeves for the biggest project of the century that cannot even be compared to the Panama Canal or the Suez Canal", the Turkish Prime Minister envisioned.
"The depth of the canal will be about 25 metres [27 yards]; its width is planned with 150 metres [164 yards] with a bed width of 120 metres [130 yards]. The largest vessels of the world will be able to pass through the canal".
PM does not expect any obstruction of traffic during construction
"The bridges we are going to build over the canal will not cause any problems for the land transport and railways. The access road to third bridge will also go over the canal".
"The [sea] traffic on the Bosporus will decrease and the risk on the Bosporus will be minimized. We will revive the Bosporus in Istanbul for Turkey and for the world. Water sports will be done on the Bosporus and city transportation will be provided; it will be like in the old days. We will get rid of most of the ships anchoring in the Sea of Marmara and hence we prevent pollution".
150-160 vessels per day
"149 vessels pass the Bosporus in Istanbul per day on average. The new canal will bring an increase of [sea] traffic".
"The cost for vessels waiting to pass the Bosporus amounts to $ 1.4 billion per year. This cost will be eliminated. We are targeting a number of 150 to 160 vessels to pass Kanal Istanbul every day. The canal will not slow down the vessel traffic - to the contrary, traffic will be accelerated".
Furthermore, the construction of the canal is supposed to include congress centres, exhibition halls, sports facilities and housing. The construction of the biggest airport in the country is planned as well.
Erdoğan emphasized that the water of the canal will not be still water and assured that the canal was not going to harm any underground and aboveground resources of Istanbul. According to the Prime Minister, the canal is not going to create any problems for Istanbul's water supply. The earth to be moved for the canal will be partly used to fill dormant mines.
Funding apparently secured
PM Erdoğan indicated that the funding of the "crazy project" was secured and put forward that the construction of the canal would provide employment for tens of thousands of people.
Environmentalists and engineers critical
Hilal Atıcı from Greenpeace argued that the project is going to create serious problems for Istanbul. "At this stage, we have to look at the projects as a chain. What kind of ecologic affect is this use of natural resources going to create? Has any research been done on the effects on the ecologic system while they planned this project?"
"We are utterly concerned and we have doubts about this situation. The project aims at relieving pressure from the Bosporus but that is not a solution. It has to be researched how and to what extend oil will be used as one of the materials".
Possible negative effects
Oğuz Öztuzcu, President of the Istanbul Association of Freelance Architects, warned that the canal will create an important factor for effects on the city. "The entry from the Black Sea leaves a question mark. This is the catchment area of Istanbul's forests and waters. This area will surely be affected. Is this to be taken under control? This is unknown. He have not got any plans. We have no information where it is going to pass and what exactly is going to be done. The starting point of the project is reasonable but it leaves question marks", Öztuzcu said.
Destruction of forests and water catchment areas
Sami Yılmaztürk, Member of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects Secretary, criticized, "The resources of Turkey will be spend for a project that is not realistic. I do not think that the opinions of all experts involved into the project have been heard".
"Forest and water catchment areas will be destroyed. You will destroy the structure of the region that has formed over millions of years. Besides, does Istanbul need such a project? We really need to question this. In the scenario described by Prime Minster Erdoğan, the width of the canal was defined at 150 metres. This is not enough to have two of the largest vessels pass through the canal side by side. If they had consulted seamen in this issue, it would have become clear that this project was unfeasible according to these facts". (BB/EKN/VK)