Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is famously fond of megaprojects. He recently launched his biggest and boldest one to date: Canal Istanbul, a 45km waterway running parallel to the Bosporus strait, connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara - and thus, to the Mediterranean. It would provide a new route for tankers sailing between the two seas and, as the government hopes, boost Turkey’s revenues.
But many say that the multi-billion dollar project is astronomically costly given Turkey’s economic struggles - and might cause an environmental disaster.
Canal Istanbul is the largest infrastructure project Turkey has ever seen. It’s long been a dream of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But the controversial project pits Turkey’s president against Istanbul’s mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu.
According to polls, that’s a view shared by a majority of the city’s residents.
But why is the canal so unpopular? And why does Erdogan want to build it anyway? To understand why the Turkish government wants a new canal, you have to look at the one that’s already there: The Bosporus.
It’s one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. More ships transit the Bosporus than the Suez and Panama Canal combined. Too many – according to the Turkish President. He says a second waterway is needed to prevent accidents - like these.
The 45 kilometer long canal has an official price tag of 15 billion dollars. Ships like these – the government argues – will no longer have to wait days to enter the Bosporus, and Turkey will collect fees on them.
But critics say President Erdogan’s dream is an environmental nightmare.
The canal will cut through agricultural land and forests – often referred to as one of the few remaining "green lungs" of Istanbul. It threatens marine ecosystems and crucial water reservoirs.
The president, however, hopes to boost the construction sector, create thousands of jobs, and turn the gears of an ailing economy. The louder the opposing voices grow, it seems, the more determined he is to proceed.
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