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China builds giant dam, largest in Tunisia

In the valley of Oued Mellegue, a perennial river running through the northwestern Tunisian governorate of Kef, a team of Chinese engineers is busy building a giant dam which, when completed, will become one of the country’s largest water conservancy facilities.

In May 2016, China’s power construction company Sinohydro won the bid to build a new dam over the river to replace the run-down old one.

“Compared with the previous one, the new Mellegue dam is smaller in size and does far less damage to the environment,” Qiu Yusheng, chief engineer of the project, told Xinhua.

The Mellegua dam is scheduled for completion in September 2023. With a maximum capacity of 305 million cubic meters of water, it will play a significant role in protecting the ecological environment in Tunisia.

At the entrance to the namesake capital city of El Kef stands a gigantic sculpture of wheat, which symbolizes the contribution of the agricultural province to the country. However, the unemployment rate in the breadbasket province has risen sharply amid the economic downturn in the recent years.

A magnet for jobs

“The Mellegue dam is not only the largest water conservancy project under construction in Tunisia, but also a magnet for local workers,” the project manager Lu Mingjun told Xinhua.

At present, nearly 300 Tunisians have been employed to work on the project, which has partly relieved the employment pressure in the province.

“The Chinese colleagues are so kind to us. I’m very happy to work here,” he said.

A laboratory operator said the Chinese colleagues taught them to operate the experimental equipment, which has improved their labor skills and competitiveness in employment.

“The job also brought us a stable income,” Wassim said, adding he and his colleagues are now sought-after infrastructure talents in his hometown.

According to a recent report from the World Resources Institute, Tunisia ranked 30th among countries facing a high level of water stress. The Tunisian government has paid great attention to water conservancy projects, especially the building of the Mellegue dam.

During his visit to the Mellegue dam in December 2019, the governor of El Kef, expressed his appreciation to the Chinese side for its long-term efforts in building the dam.

He hoped that Sinohydro would continue to make full use of its own advantages to help facilitate the local agricultural production.

In May, Faiz Msallen, head of the dam department at the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture, expressed satisfaction with the overall progress and paid tribute to all workers for their commitment despite the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather.

“We are determined to make the dam a firm monument that will stand in the valley for the next century,” said Wang Chenrui, a Chinese employee who has worked on the project for three years.

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