Tunisia is preparing to address the important water challenges of the next few decades as a result of growing demand and shrinking supply. Tunisia’s institutions will face increasingly complex management challenges.
The Tunisian government continues to pursue the reforms and investments outlined in the 1999 strategy. It developed a ten-year water sector support Program (2001-2011), organized around three specific aspects: (i) integrated water management and conservation; (ii) economic efficiency of water use in agriculture; and (iii) institutions restructuring and capacity building in the water sector.
A recent report, “Water in the Arab World Management Perspectives and Innovations”, published by the World Bank says that Tunisia’s success in water management is all the more remarkable as the country is one of the countries in the Mediterranean least endowed with water resources. It adds that the country has managed to balance surface and groundwater stocks, using dams and ground water reserves to store surplus water in wet years and use them in dry years.
A loan agreement for the equivalent of US 30.6 million USD has been approved by the World Bank to support strategic investments in the Tunisian water sector.
.This project aims to promote more efficient management and operation of selected public irrigation schemes by participating farmers and improve access to and consumption of drinking water for rural households in communities un-served at the beginning of the project;
It also aims at enhancing the quality and availability of technical information needed to support decision making in the field of integrated water resources management.
The project builds on an initial phase and will continue to support the transition led by the Tunisian government towards integrated management of supply and demand, of water quantity and quality and of surface and groundwater.
The project will continue to support national investments in policy innovations, physical investments and strengthening of local, regional and national institutions.
The project is also jointly financed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the French Development Agency (AFD). The total cost of the project is $163 million USD equivalent, to be financed by loans ($122 million USD equivalent), the Government of Tunisia ($33 million equivalent) and grants from various sources (approximately $7 million USD).
At the request of the Tunisian Government, the World Bank mobilized a team of multidisciplinary specialists to prepare a strategy for the water supply and sanitation sector in Tunisia.
The Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources has developed a model to help operate the country’s water systems and manage the risks associated with droughts and floods. The model simulates all foreseeable demands to enable the government to ensure that needs are met to plan infrastructure needs well in advance. The tools used to create the simulations are constantly updated and enhanced to account for variables related to demand levels, the performance of technology and perverse effects of reality.
It also uses a series of separate information systems such as the optimal Water Resources Management model, as well as the setting up of an agricultural map of the country in 2004. This map is in fact a series of regional maps which gives and overview of the agricultural area of each governorate, its resources, development potential strengths and weaknesses. The map comprises 50 layers of geographic data.
The country has also experienced with desalination and innovative techniques such as reverse osmosis technology to convert saline water ground water into drinking water, as well as the exploitation of geothermal water in the country’s southern regions.
The report adds that promotional campaigns have greatly contributed to water conservation in agriculture, which consumes almost 80% of Tunisia’s water resources.
With increased involvement of users water planning and implementation will see improved performance, writes the report, which notes that serious thought will need to be given to ways in which water users can be brought to participate in defining Tunisia’s water management strategy.
Since the end of the 1980’s with the introduction of conservation measures in irrigated areas, consumption per hectare has decreased from 6,200 cubic meters per hectare to nearly 5,500 cubic meters.
In 1995, a national program of irrigation water conservation (PNEEI) was adopted with the aim of rationalizing the use of water to ensure that maximum economic value is derived from irrigation.