Gafsa region in the south of Tunisia was once an oasis; today the phosphate industry has plunged it into a water crisis.
“This summer for the first time we had water cuts on a daily basis,” says Lakhdar Souid, coordinator of the Blue Plan for a Green Tunisia. “Gafsa (343 km south of capital Tunis) and the neighbouring towns were deeply affected.”
The Blue Plan, or the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), a joint initiative of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the European Union for development in the Mediterranean region, aims to raise awareness among decision-makers and the population on environmental risks.
“International experts warn that by 2025, North Africa will witness a water war. I believe if the matter is not taken seriously by the current transitional government, such a scenario will happen earlier in Tunisia,” says Souid.
The official reason for water cuts given by the minister for agriculture, hydraulic resources and fisheries, Mokhtar Jalleli, is that the National Tunisian Electric and Gas (STEG) had power outage in several centres during periods of heavy consumption.
Jalleli’s ministry is responsible for management of the National Water Distribution Utility – Société nationale de Distribution des Eaux (SONEDE).
Souid says that ever since Tunisia’s independence from France in 1956, successive governments have privileged the development of the north, around the capital, and the Mediterranean coastline, which has left many inland regions marginalised.
This has been the case with the mining region in the south, particularly near Gafsa, home to some 369,000 inhabitants. Last month, people protesting water cuts clashed with police forces during the heat wave in the holy month of Ramadan.
For the complete article, please see Inter Press Service.