Private Rivers: Politics of Renewable Energy and the Rise of Water Struggles in Turkey

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Private Rivers is a study of contested processes whereby use rights to water are privatised for electricity production. It engages with the issues of renewable energy solutions and the sustainability of run-of-river hydro projects in Turkey by investigating the connection between these policies and justice for rural populations, whose livelihood depends on the rivers. Since 2001, water privatisation in Turkey has moved beyond the urban setting and is, in various forms, taking place in rural areas. A recent Turkish example of this is the leasing of the rights to the use of rivers to private companies for the purpose of producing electricity for a period of 49 years. This is interpreted as ‘privatisation of the rivers,’ constituting a loss in the public use of these waters given that the rights of others (people and nature), are effectively sidelined through these private transfers. There are three main findings from this field-based and theoretically informed study.
First, the privatisation of rivers in Turkey is a result of changes in environmental governance associated with neoliberalisation. In Turkey, water governance has been influenced by privatisation since the 1980s. In line with Foucault’s governmentality perspective, I show how this neoliberal era is characterised by new alliances between the state and the climate change community, and how the involvement of transnational companies implies a more diffuse, opaque form of governance. Secondly, the privatisation of rivers relies on a politics of exclusion in a number of ways. Thus, resource rights are created, negotiated, contested and ignored at various levels in the decision-making processes. It is documented that legal frameworks are regulated in such a way that land and water owned by the state and rural communities are reallocated according to market-based profit interests. The ambiguous environmental impact assessment processes, the renewable energy laws allowing construction on reserved and protected areas and urgent expropriation decisions are all illustrations of how legal rights are negotiated in ways that exclude the rights of people and nature.In consequence, most of the hydroelectricity projects in the current Turkish legal and environmental framework have generated social conflicts and have either already led to, or have the potential to cause environmental degradation. Thirdly, I show that the struggles derived from this process constitute the first nation-wide water rights movements in Turkey. Despite the social and political diversity of the locally based struggle groups, they managed to mobilize nationally around a common goal of protecting their rivers and to share their experiences with other affected communities. These struggles invoked the issue of recognition as a crucial element of justice and have raised awareness of the importance of local participation, customary rights, and effective environmental protection mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)
  • Jerneck, Anne, Supervisor
  • Clark, Eric, Supervisor
Award date2013 May 31
ISBN (Print)978-91-979832-1-1
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2013-05-31
Time: 13:00
Place: Geocentrum I, Världen
External reviewer(s)
Name: Esteban Castro, Jose
Title: Professor
Affiliation: School of Geography, Politics and Sociology. Newcastle University

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • Renewable energy
  • neoliberal state
  • water rights
  • privatisation
  • Turkey
  • sustainability


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