Turkey held its first tender on Thursday to build a huge canal on the edge of İstanbul, a Transport Ministry spokesman said, signaling progress on the project despite widespread criticism over its cost and environmental impact, Reuters reported.
Some experts on social media criticized the move, which came amid stringent measures related to the coronavirus outbreak, which will have a significant impact on the Turkish economy.
“Sad — and unbelievable. Turkey goes on a tender for the controversial and massively expensive Canal Istanbul, meant to be a new passageway parallel to the Bosphorus. Harmful to the ecology — and economy,” Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a research fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted.
Mustafa Sönmez, an economist, gave examples of developed countries that have declared financial support for the markets amid coronavirus measures and criticized Turkey’s attempt to proceed with such a vastly lucrative project.
Can Okar, another economist, tweeted: “In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic which will have profound implications for societal health, global financing and long-term economic growth, Turkey’s thinking about a canal.”
“This tender is remarkable. Turkey is still at the early phase of COVID-19 spread and so the public health cost and fiscal ramifications are still really unclear. What we can already guess is that it won’t be good news. The Turkish economy, like all others, will not be the same.”
The tender is for the planning phase of reconstructing two historic bridges located in the area where the 45-kilometer (28 mile) Kanal İstanbul, championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is expected to run.
The canal will connect the Black Sea north of Istanbul with the Marmara Sea to the south and is estimated to cost 75 billion lira ($11.6 billion). The government says it will ease shipping traffic on the Bosporus Strait and prevent accidents there.
But the canal, like many other infrastructure mega-projects built under Erdoğan’s 17-year rule, has been criticized by opponents who say it will wreak environmental havoc and pollute fresh water resources.
Five companies bid on Thursday for the planning of the reconstruction of the historic Odabaşı and Dursunköy bridges, the state-owned Anadolu news agency said. The bids ranged from 408,000 lira ($63,500) to 550,000 lira.
The project, which was effectively on hold after a currency crisis in 2018 drove the economy into recession, came back on the agenda in December, leading to heated exchanges between Erdoğan and İstanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, a member of the main opposition party.
İmamoğlu said spending resources on the canal while Turkey combats the coronavirus outbreak was “mind boggling,” adding that 50,000 families had applied to the Istanbul Municipality for support due to the economic impact of the pandemic.
“Why don’t we spend our resources for our people instead of spending our resources on Kanal İstanbul, which to us is a weird project,” he said.
Responding to İmamoğlu’s comments, the Transport Ministry said in a statement the tender was previously scheduled and did not hinder the government’s efforts to contain the outbreak.
The ministry said İmamoğlu’s “political opportunism” was more damaging to the battle against coronavirus, adding that calling for a halt in production and investments at such a time was wrong.