Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Why Erdogan wants to turn Istanbul into an island
'Kanal Istanbul' would create a second Bosporus – and immortalize its creator.
- The Bosporus is three times busier than the Suez Canal, and getting worse.
- To resolve marine congestion, Turkey wants to build a 'second Bosporus'.
- The controversial project would alter local geography – and may have unintended consequences.
The freighter Ismael Mehieddine sailing through the Bosporus in 2014, with the Hagia Sophia (left) and the Galata Tower (right) in the background. Heavy traffic and dangerous cargo create the permanent threat of serious accidents in the middle of one the biggest cities on earth – as have happened in the past.
Image: Julian Nyča, CC BY-SA 4.0
"It does not befit Turkey to think small or to act small," Recep Teyyip Erdogan said last December, countering critics of his Istanbul Canal project. On this much at least those critics agree with the Turkish president: 'Kanal Istanbul' will have a huge impact on the megacity. For starters, it will unmoor the historical core of Istanbul from Europe, turning it into an island.
Whether as Byzantium or Constantinople in previous ages or as Istanbul today, the city on the Bosporus (1) derives its importance from that narrow waterway. The Bosporus separates Europe from Asia and connects the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Istanbul is the only city in the world that links two continents and two seas. It doesn't get more strategic than that.
That's reflected by the strait's special status. Signed in 1936, the Montreux Convention gave merchant vessels from any country free passage through the Bosporus. Navy vessels can also pass through, with some very specific restrictions (2). Only in wartime may Turkey pro-actively clamp down on maritime traffic through the strait.
That makes the Bosporus - at a certain point only 2,300 ft (700 m) wide - the world's narrowest international waterway. Over the decades since Montreux was signed, it's also turned into the busiest. In 1934, about 4,500 vessels crossed the strait. By 2017, that number had increased almost twelve-fold, to 53,000. That's more than three times the number of ships that sailed through the Suez Canal that year (17,000), and more than four times the figure for the Panama Canal (12,000).
Plus, about one in five ships passing through the Bosporus each year is a tanker carrying hazardous materials. In 2018, that added up to 150 million tons of dangerous cargo.
Currents and curves
The Bosporus as seen from the International Space Station, showing coastal waters from the Black Sea carried into the Sea of Marmara.
Image: NASA, Public Domain
Considering that average ship size has more than doubled since Montreux, and that the Bosporus is a natural waterway with 13 sharp curves, strong bidirectional currents and heavy traffic, there is always a risk of serious accidents – as shown by past incidents.
- In 1960, a collision of the oil tankers Peter Verovitz (Yugoslavia) and World Harmony (Greece) killed 20 and created a large oil spill.
- In 1966, a collision of two Soviet oil tankers, the Lutsk and the Kransky, led to a huge oil spill and a fire on the Kadiköy Pier, the main ferry pier on the Asiatic side.
- In 1970, the Italian oil tanker Ancona collided with a building on shore, killing five.
- In 1979, an accident with the Romanian oil tanker Independenta killed 51 and its cargo of 95,000 tons of oil caught fire. The blaze burned for a whole month. The wreckage hindered traffic for years afterwards.
- In 2018, the freigther Vitaspirit collided with the historical wooden villa of Hekimbasi Salih Efendi, causing massive damage.
And the international shipping isn't even half the story, for it doesn't include local traffic: almost 2,000 ferry rides carry about 500,000 commuters across the Bosporus every day.
Smaller accidents happen regularly; to prevent the larger ones, the Turkish government has banned the night passage of tankers longer than 200 meters, among other measures. That doesn't improve the waiting times for ships on either side of the strait, which sometimes have to queue for days before they can cross over.
A second Bosporus
Overview of Kanal Istanbul and some of the surrounding projects, including the already inaugurated new airport (northeast) and the yet to be developed city around the canal (center).
Image: Property Turkey
With traffic predicted to hit 86,000 ships by 2070, the evident solution is a new waterway, a second Bosporus: 'Kanal Istanbul'. It must be said that Erdogan's idea is hardly original. The first to float it was Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-22). The idea was subsequently adopted and abandoned by succeeding sultans at the regular rate of once per century: Murad III (16th c.), Mehmed IV (17th c.), Mustafa III (18th c.) and Mahmoud II (19th c.)
As if not to break the chain, four-time Turkish prime minister Bülent Ecevit revived the idea for an electoral campaign in the 1990s. Ideas of such historical persistence have a way of coming back until they are fulfilled (3), and indeed: Ecevit's successor Erdogan, then still prime minister, reanimated the plan in 2011, for yet another electoral campaign.
In fact, the canal was one of three 'crazy projects' – Erdogan's own words – designed to raise Turkey's GDP to $2 trillion by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish republic. The other two were the world's biggest airport, and a superhighway linking it to the city and beyond. The new Istanbul Airport opened last year. However, work on Kanal Istanbul has hit some delays.
The canal's final route was announced only in 2018. It will run about 19 miles (30 km) west of the Bosporus, from Lake Küçükçekmece in the south, through the districts of Avcilar and Basaksehir inland, with most of the route carving through Arnavutköy in the north. When finished, the canal will be 28 miles (45 km) long, 69 ft (20.75 m) deep and 1,180 ft (360 m) wide at the surface; 900 ft (275 m) at the bottom. It will be able to accommodate ships of up to 1,150 ft (350 m) long and 160 ft (49 m) wide, with a draft of 58 ft (17 m).
The cost of the project, estimated initially to be $8-10 billion, has already been revised upward to $16.5 billion. A project this size creates its own weather, so to speak, even before it's under way. Visions of a new city housing half a million people rising up along the canal have sent local real estate prices soaring. But Kanal Istanbul has also run into some tough headwinds: the project has a vocal and powerful opponent in Ekrem Imamoglu, who was elected mayor of Istanbul in 2019.
But who will pay?
Imamoglu is on record as calling the project a disaster, treason, even "murder" – figuratively, of Istanbul; because the canal threatens between a fifth and a third of the city's fresh water supply (4), places a physical limit on the city's westward expansion, and increases the risk of flooding. In case of a catastrophic earthquake, the canal may make it harder to get help in and evacuees out of the city, which will effectively be an island. Not to mention that building the canal involves the destruction of vast tracts of agriculturally and ecologically valuable land.
The mayor seems to have most of his citizens on side, as a poll earlier this indicated 80 percent of Istanbulites are against the canal, with only 8 percent in favor. For Erdogan, that must sound like Gezi Park all over again. In 2013, plans to develop that Istanbul park, one of the relatively few green spaces left in the city, sparked demonstrations that morphed into a nationwide wave of civil unrest, directed against the policies of Erdogan's government. The Kanal Istanbul project contains much of the same socially combustible material.
But since Turkey is a highly centralised state, there is very little even the mayor of Istanbul can do against a canal that will radically alter the geography of his city. Work on the canal, which was greenlighted at the start of 2020, will involve up to 800 people at any given time, and up to 10,000 people over the project's entire lifetime. Erdogan has pledged use the national budget and if necessary, the national army to finish the canal.
The new canal would have a capacity of about 160 vessels a day, comparable to the Bosporus itself. Interesting for Turkey is that the canal will not be subject to the Montreux Convention, meaning that it will have full control over traffic on the canal – and will also be able to charge a fee. But who will want to pay when free passage via the Bosporus remains an option guaranteed by international treaty? Turkey may bet on shipping companies wanting to minimise delays (5). And if that doesn't work, then perhaps those delays could miraculously start getting longer.
First, however, the canal needs to be built. As of now, no major excavation work seems to have been undertaken yet. And even when the project gets going, economic problems and/or social unrest may still throw a spanner in the works. But if the canal gets dug, then Erdogan will have succeeded where five sultans have not. And his name will be attached to an accomplishment pharaonic in scale, which may remain relevant when much else that animates this century has faded into history.
But perhaps Erdogan's name will also be associated with a less flattering consequence of the mega-canal. Among the many objections to the canal that are summarily brushed aside by the proponents of the project, is the warning by marine scientists that Kanal Istanbul would upset the complex correspondence of water flows between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. It could leave the former body of water anoxic – deprived of oxygen. That could mean that large parts of the city will be smelling of hydrogen sulfide – an aroma commonly identified with rotten eggs, and in future perhaps with past presidents.
Strange Maps #1047
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
- The literal translation of Bosporus from the ancient Greek is 'cattle strait', or 'oxford'. In Turkish, the preferred term is Istanbul Boğazı, or simply Boğazı, 'the Strait'.
- For some time after WWII, the Soviets tried to pressure Turkey into granting its navy unrestricted access to the Mediterranean. However, the so-called Turkish Straits Crisis backfired on the Soviets: Turkey eventually abandoned its neutrality and joined NATO.
- See for example the idea for the establishment of a brand-new inland capital for Brazil, which predates Brasilia by well over a century – and which led to a map mystery that is explained in #989 and solved in #990.
- In 2019, the city of Istanbul consumed about 2.8 million m3 of fresh water per day. That's roughly an Olympic swimming pool per second.
- For a large merchant vessel, 'waiting mode' can cost up to $120,000 a day.
- Military Coup Underway in Turkey, Says Country's Prime Minister ... ›
- What Culture Clash? - Big Think ›
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
A supernova exploded near Earth about 2.5 million years ago, possibly causing an extinction event.
- Researchers from the University of Munich find evidence of a supernova near Earth.
- A star exploded close to our planet about 2.5 million years ago.
- The scientists deduced this by finding unusual concentrations of isotopes, created by a supernova.
This Manganese crust started to form about 20 million years ago. Growing layer by layer, it resulted in minerals precipitated out of seawater. The presence of elevated concentrations of 60 Fe and 56 Mn in layers from 2.5 million years ago hints at a nearby supernova explosion around that time.
Credit: Dominik Koll/ TUM
Shannon Lee shares lessons from her father in her new book, "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- Bruce Lee would have turned 80 years old on November 27, 2020. The legendary actor and martial artist's daughter, Shannon Lee, shares some of his wisdom and his philosophy on self help in a new book titled "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- In this video, Shannon shares a story of the fight that led to her father beginning a deeper philosophical journey, and how that informed his unique expression of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do.
- One lesson passed down from Bruce Lee was his use and placement of physical symbols as a way to help "cement for yourself this new way of being, or this new lesson you've learned." By working on ourselves (with the right tools), we can develop the skills necessary to rise and conquer new challenges.
How to deal with "epistemic exhaustion."