‘Nobody, Not Even the Rain, has Such Small Hands*’: The Turkish Struggle with the Marketization of Water or ‘How can you Procure Life’?

The Spanish director Iciar Bollain strikes the audience succinctly at heart and conscience with her excellent 2010 film ‘Even the Rain’, which tells the stories of the colonisation of Latin America in the 15th-16th century and the struggle of the Bolivian people against the global corporations which try to privatise their water supply in 2000 simultaneously. Bollain’s film strikingly points out to one of the most recent controversies in Turkey: the Turkish people’s organised struggle against the privatisation of energy and water supply in particular. The so-called ‘Platform for No to the Marketization of Water’ which has been established in November 2008 to protest against the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul in March 2009 was organised by the collaboration of World Water Forum and the Greater Municipality of Istanbul. The main idea behind the initial protests was to oppose against the conception of water as a ‘commodity’ by the World Water Forum and its sponsor, United Nations[1] and the collaboration of public organisations such as local governments and OECD and private companies for ‘determination of the value of water through market mechanisms’. Within the course of past 3 years, the Platform organised numerous demonstrations in various parts of Turkey such as Hopa, Saklıkent, Fındıklı and İkizdere where the Small-Scale Hydroelectric Plants (HES) are constructed and where the right to use the river basins has been granted to multi-national energy companies for 49 years. Indeed, the Statutory Decree numbered 648, which has been issued right after the 12 June 2011 general elections, abolished all natural protection areas (SIT) and put their declaration under the control of a government controlled committee instead of the independent Council for the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage.

Although the struggle against the building of HESs, destruction of valleys and pollution of rivers has been systematized and put within a political context by the Platform in the late 2000s, the Turkish struggle against the environmental degradation is not new.  In the 1990s, the struggle against Euro-gold and its gold-mining activities mobilised by a few local politicians soon went beyond local opposition and became the most broad-based and popular environmental struggle in the Turkish context. Another important highlight within the environmental struggle has been the Sisterhood/Brotherhood of Streams (Derelerin Kardeşliği) Platform which was founded at the end of 2007 in the North-East Turkey against the hydro-power development in the valleys of the Black Sea region.  The sisterhood provided legal support and organized the first largest demonstration with thousands of people in Çayeli in June 2008 against hydro-power. According to Professor Beyza Üstün from the Department of Environmental Engineering, Yıldız Technical University, via the construction the hydro-electric plants, which lead to the commercialization of the natural resources, we are no longer dependent on ‘external powers’ (which is a highly popular discourse employed by the nationalists in the Turkish debates), but dependent on the mercy of the energy companies. In the near future, for Üstün, who ever pay will have access to tap water. The use of water-meters based on pre-payment in some big cities is an indication of this.

A recent variant of this struggle has been the activities of the so-called “Platform for Life instead of the 3rd Bridge”, which opposes the construction of the 3rd Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul between two shores of the city. The main argument of the Platform is that the construction of the bridge has got nothing to do with the aim of resolving Istanbul’s traffic problem, but just serves to the interests of the construction sector and the government which aims to shift the city centre towards the North for the sake of construction sites over there. It is also noteworthy that the AKP government has left the 3rd Bosporus Bridge Project outside the scope of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the grounds that ‘the investment plans of the project started long before 1993[2]’.

The Bechtel Company, which got the right to use the water resources (including the rain water) in Bolivia until 2039 had to leave the country after the riot both in real life and in the movie, ‘Even the Rain’[3]. We will see where the struggle will lead to in Turkey, which is currently organised by the ‘small hands’ of the people and civil society organisations from different political fractions. They just ask a simple question: ‘How can you procure life?’

 Başak Alpan

Please cite this article as follows:

Alpan, Başak (March, 2012), “‘Nobody, Not Even the Rain, has Such Small Hands’: The Turkish Struggle with the Marketization of Water or ‘How can you Procure Life’?”, Vol. I, Issue 1,  pp.8-9,  Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London: ResearchTurkey (http://researchturkey.org/p=180)

*From E.E. Cummings’ poem, ‘Somewhere I have never Travelled’.

[1] At the 1992 UN Environment and Water Conference in Dublin, water has been identified as an ‘economic commodity’ by the United Nations.

[2] Environmental Impact Assessment has been accepted as a legal requierement for new construction projects in Turkey in February 1993.

[3] ‘The Bechtel Company filed a $50 million claim with International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes against the Bolivian government. The claim was not only for recovery of its lost investment, which amounted to less than $1 million, but also for the profit it claimed to have lost when Bolivia annulled the water contract. In 2006, the company withdrew its claim and Instead of its $50 million, it agreed to damages in the amount of two bolivianos – 25 cents’ (Opinio Juris, available at http://lawofnations.blogspot.com/2006/02/bechtel-abandons-its-icsid-claim.html)


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