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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The new “ Canal Istanbul” - a viable option or a poll gimmick ?

In Tamilnadu,  general elections were held on 13th April 2011 and the State is made to wait anxiously for a month for the results.  Prior to the Polls, there were lots of electoral promises. J Jayalalitha  started her third term as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu on an auspicious note by signing the first two files relating to the distribution of four gram gold for making thirumaangalyam (mangalsutra) and Rs 25,000 financial assistance to girls hailing from poor families.   The CM also  signed the file relating to the distribution of 20 kg rice free-of-cost to all family card-holders and 35 kg rice free to the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (poorest of the poor) card-holders through the Public Distribution System.  In a women-friendly measure, Jayalalithaa ordered that all pregnant women employees would get six months maternity leave.  A positive note on completing the election promises. 

Facing the polls, the common refrain of the political parties was to change the city to Singapore and comically to bring rivers and more water… perhaps the politicians world over are similar. Turkey’s 17th general elections are to be held on 12th June 2011 – this is going to the nation’s first non-early election in 34 years. They are to elect national level legislature for the Grand national assembly of Turkey which has 550 members elected for a four year term, in a system of proportional representation. To participate in distribution of seats, a party must get at least 10% of votes.

The PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is seeking a third term revealed a new ambitious plan hitherto privately speculated – a new project of a canal. Canals are man-made channels for water. They could be simple aqueducts that would supply potable water for human consumption and irrigation and waterways for navigation. Canal can be created even where no stream or waterbody exists. They are dug deep by piling and then water would be diverted through that way.

World over, the two famous inter-basin canals have brought in prosperity to the country besides helping the Trade between countries. The Suez Canal was opened in Nov 1869 after a decade of construction work and eased transportation between Europe and Asia without circumnavigating Africa. Egypt became richer. The Panama canal stretching 77 km joins the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean becoming the most preferred conduit for international maritime trade.   The canals when finished created enormous impact on shipping and uplifted the economy of the Nation owning the canal. 

Civilization and Canals have co-existed.  The oldest known canals were the irrigation canals – built in the Mesopotamia region – modern day Iraq and Syria.   The Indus Valley Civilization of the Northern part of India including the present day Pakistan had  sophisticated irrigation and storage.  Olden day settlements were on the banks of rivers and when they developed into inner lands, they perhaps took canals alongside. 

Istanbul is a old city - historically known as Constantinople.  It is the largest city in Turkey and 2nd largest city proper in the world with a population of 13 million, also making it the largest metropolitan city proper in Europe and the second largest metropolitan area in Europe by population.  It is the financial nerve of Turkey located on the Bosphorus Strait and encompasses the natural harbour known as the Golden Horn, in the northwest of the country. It extends both on the European (Thrace) and on the Asian (Anatolia) sides of the Bosphorus, and is thereby the only metropolis in the world that is situated on two continents.   It had been the capital of Roman, Latin and Ottoman Empires. When Turkey proclaimed to be a Republic in 1923, Ankara was chosen as the new State capital. 

The canal – Kanal Istanbul -  now proposed to be built is to connect the Black Sea with the Marmara Sea  and is devised to reduce traffic in the Bosporus, one of the world’s busiest and most dangerous shipping lanes.  Announcing his plan in the midst of a  re-election campaign the PM stated that the new canal just like the Panama & Suez would cut through mostly undeveloped, state-owned land and forest just west of Istanbul, creating a second channel that ultimately connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.  It was a strategy to bypass the heavily congested Bosphorus Strait, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan  announced.   He announced that  the 150m-wide (492ft) "Canal Istanbul" would link the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara that opens to the Aegean Sea via the Dardanelles and would be about 45km-long (31 miles).  When completed, it could be the greatest project of the century".  He did not disclose the exact location.

From the statistics dwelt, it appeared that it was not an exercise in air.  The PM said that the  waterway would have a depth of about 25m; would afford the daily passage of up to 160 vessels and could be completed by 2023.  However, the cost involved in such a huge project was not put bare.   Shifting to human angle, the PM stressed that there is need for protecting some 2M people living on the banks of Bosphorous from millions of tonnes of hazardous materials being transported through the 30km strait every year.

The Bosphorus  also known as the Istanbul Strait is a strait that forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. It is one of the Turkish Straits, along with the Dardanelles. The world's narrowest strait used for international navigation, it connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara.  The shores of the strait are heavily populated.
The name comes from Greek Bosporos which would mean 'means of passing a river, ford, ferry'.  The sea of Marmara is the inland sea that connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea, thus separating Turkey's Asian and European parts. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Black Sea and the Dardanelles strait to the Aegean. The former also separates Istanbul into its Asian and European sides.

Whether this a well planned initiative or just a poll gimmick – only years can tell !  If and when executed this Canal would sing glory of the vision of  Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  Erdogan  born in 1954 is the present PM of Turkey and a former mayor of Istanbul. He is also the chairman of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), which holds a majority of the seats in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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