The Southeastern Anatolia Project is aiming to transform Turkey's southeast into a leading supplier of food, water and energy, for Turkey and the region officials claim they are on track to reaching this goal
The potential of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers in southeast Turkey has been known for centuries. In order to harness this potential for irrigation and hydropower generation the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) was established several decades ago but actually started to take shape in 1970. This integrated socioeconomic development project is one of the largest of its kind in the world. It includes a water resources development program which includes 22 dams, 19 hydropower plants and an irrigation network for 1.7 million hectares of land.
The projectdoes not only provide economic opportunities but also enhances the socio-economic structure of the region.
The GAP Regional Development Administration was established in 1989. Daily Sabah spoke with the Head of GAP Administration Sadrettin Karahocagil to get the latest details on the project. "GAP is one of the biggest regional development schemes in the world and the largest and most comprehensive enterprise ever carried out in Turkey," he said. The GAP has been implemented in the Southeastern Anatolia Region which covers nine provinces (Adıyaman, Batman, Diyarbakır, Gaziantep, Kilis, Mardin, Siirt, Şanlıurfa and Şırnak). In terms of both population size and surface area the region makes up approximately 10 percent of the country. At the inception stage the GAP was launched as a program for developing land and water resources existing in the region, envisaging the construction of 22 dams and 19 hydro-power plants (HPP) for irrigation and energy accompanied by other investments for irrigation. As of 2013, 420,000 hectares of land in the basin of the Euphrates and Tigris in the GAP region were given access to irrigation sources. This means that only 25 percent of all envisaged irrigation investments could be realized so far.
From the point of the GAP Administration the project is comprehensive and not only about irrigation or hydropower production. "The GAP is a regional development project with its international brand that aims at improving the income level and quality of life of people living in the region by mobilizing resources in southeastern Anatolia, eliminating development disparities between this region and other regions of the country and thus contributing the targets of economic growth and social stability at a national level," Karahocagil said.
In fact the project contributed immensely to the development of the region. With an increase in irrigation facilities, agricultural and industrial output developed in the region. Total exports from the region totalled only $600 million in 2002 and this figure reached $8.9 billion at the end of 2013. Turkey's total exports increased 42 percent from 2007 to 2013. In the same period total export increase of the GAP Region reached 170 percent.
The GAP administration aims to provide more positive developments with the new (2014-2018) action plan which includes policies, strategies and actions to complete the project in the medium-term. According to Karahocagil basic objectives of the GAP Action Plan ensure economic growth, social development and employment creation in the southeast so as to enhance the level of welfare, peace and happiness of citizens living in the region.
Building adequate and quality infrastructure in the region is one of the determining factors in realizing economic transformation and accelerating social development. In this respect, the completion of irrigation infrastructure is the priority target of the GAP. According to the action plan 1,100,000 hectares of land will be under irrigation by 2018. This means that agricultural and industrial output of the region will increase dramatically. The number of people employed in the region stands at two million, by end of 2018 it expected to reach three million.
In other words the project is aiming to create one million extra jobs in four years' time. Diversification is also important to increase agricultural and industrial output crop. "Crop diversification and development of agro-based industry are also one of the aims we are working for. We have undertaken several projects for crop diversification and results are promising," Karahocagil said.
In addition to agricultural outcome, the region also has the potential for energy production. Half of the hydropower produced in the country is from the GAP and the total value of produced energy from the region has reached to $23.5 billion at the end of 2013. Moreover, the region has great potential to exploit renewable energy sources, especially solar and biomass.
Social development is also one of the goals of the GAP administration. There has been significant improvement in regional indicators in the fields of education and health. Moreover, the action plan aims to boost these indicators up to national averages by introducing new education and health facilities while responding to equipment and personnel needs of existing ones. Enrollment ratios in pre-school, primary and secondary education in the region is rising and the number of students per classroom in primary and secondary education is shrinking.
Moreover, the administration provides different courses aimed at improving the status of women. The courses, which range from literacy to vocational have been taken by 25,000 women in the region.