Growing demand, stagnant, if not even declining supply, raising fears of a systematic rationing, long-term weather forecasts that are not reassuring, dilapidated pipes, recurring protests against intermittent cuts of tap water, that’s how some would summarize, with reason, the current situation of water in Tunisia.
The subject was raised, officially, at the highest level, no later than Thursday, September 1, during the working session that brought together Prime Minister Najla Bouden and the ministers of Finance, Trade, Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources and focused mainly on the preparation of the state budget for 2023.
A press briefing was also devoted to the problem of water in the country during the summer season last August 2. It was chaired by the Minister Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources who had not hidden the many challenges facing Tunisia in this area, but politicians always prefer to emphasize the actions of resilience and struggle planned notwithstanding their real effectiveness, like the obsolescence of nearly 59,000-km-long pipes, According to the Minister, SONEDE (the National Water Distribution Utility) installs annually 700 km of pipes including 200 km, in renewal of the network.
However, it is not only officials who are “optimistic”.
Recently, commentators of online press articles have strongly criticized the author of an article with an alarmist tone on water in Tunisia, inspired, in fact, from reports of international agencies.
New Water Code
Precisely, by referring to reports and studies on water in Tunisia and their use by the media, one would think that Tunisia is exposed, constantly, to thirst, which does not correspond at all to reality.
Tunisia has significant natural water resources (rainfall, groundwater), is equipped with many hydraulic works (dams, lakes, artesian wells) and has a vast distribution network of drinking and irrigation water, serving the entire territory.
Officially, out of nearly 11 million inhabitants in Tunisia, only 200,000 people still do not have direct access to tap water. The rate of access to drinking water is 100% in urban areas.
In addition, there are a good number of mineral water sources operated under concessions by private companies. Tunisians, at least in large cities, prefer to drink mineral water bottled by these companies.
Influential representatives of civil society interested in the issue of water believe that the water problem in Tunisia is a matter of management. This means that if there is a water crisis, it is the result of poor management of natural water resources.
This is the opinion of the organization “Nomade 08” and the Tunisian Water Observatory, two NGOs very active and very listened to in terms of water in Tunisia. They have advocated, among other solutions, the creation of an autonomous public body responsible for water management, instead of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources, as well as a National Agency for water management in rural areas.
This last suggestion regarding the agency for water management in rural areas has been retained in the draft of the new Water Code, which has been waiting to be adopted since 2018.
Despite some shortcomings such as the risk of leading to privatization of water in Tunisia, noted by the two above-mentioned NGOs, the draft of the new Water Code brings many improvements in this area, such as the fight against the overexploitation of the water table by uncontrolled drilling. Specialists believe that the Tunisian Saharan aquifer is much more important than the studies give, but these uncontrolled drillings favored by the multiplication of companies that drill them, constitute a real danger in this area. The oasis region in the South is beginning to feel the negative effects seriously.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the recently recorded declining water resources in dams, among others, (filling rate not exceeding 45%), is a consequence of the persistent drought and climate change, which remains to be verified. Tunisia has always been arid and semi-arid in a large part, say the specialists. Therefore, the problem of water has certainly to do with the management and at this time in the country.