In the heart of the drama of pollution and lack of water in Tunisia

The website “Reporterre” published on March 22, an article, which deals with the situation of pollution and the lack of water in Tunisia. The Report made by Eros Sana immerses the reader in the daily lives of the populations of four major cities affected by pollution and lack of water.

At Kasserine, a city of more than 76,000 people, water and air are polluted because of the releases of the National Society of Cellulose and Paper Alfa (SNCPA). SNCPA is the main industrial hub of Kasserine and all of West-Central Tunisia. This is due to the non-modernisation of its installations. Indeed, the pulp bleaching process requires huge amounts of water consumption and the massive use of chlorine. As there is no processing unit, chlorine is released directly into the environment. So, sewage residues of chlorinated compounds such as dioxin, end up in waterways, reducing their oxygen content and destroying aquatic habitats.

SNCPA polluter responsibility was acknowledged by the Tunisian State who in December 2015 has decided to reach 2.6 million dinars (1.15 million euros) to combat this pollution. The damages caused are enormous as relates Soufiene El Amri, president of the Regional Association for the Protection of the Environment in Kasserine. “Chlorine and mercury threatens groundwater and the atmosphere. We conducted surveys and we found pollution up to 40 kilometers of the cellulose plant. 31 kilometers from Kasserine to Sbeitla, polluted waters mingle with those restated by the national Office for sanitation. And farmers have no other choice than to use these waters to irrigate their crops. Those who have not been affected by the water they drink will be by the vegetables they eat!”

The region of West-Central Tunisia is in a situation of stress. Water resources are used for industrial activities and to supply some seaside cities. Like this, Sfax, city of 265.000 inhabitants, is fed by water from the town of Sbeital, located 170 kilometers and has 20,000 inhabitants. “While we send the water of the highest quality to the inhabitants of Sfax, Sbeitla, we suffer from water cuts each week. And when we can finally drink from the tap, the water is not good,” complains an inhabitant in the article.

At Regueb, women’s groups are working in fields of green beans. These are exposed to the chemicals without protection. “We work five days a week, 8 am to 4 pm, and we are paid 20 dinars, while men are paid 90 dinars. The work is hard, very hard. We should wear masks to protect us from chemicals that are widespread on bean plants, but we do not have any. These pesticides are attacking our skin, make us vomit; make us sick”, says a woman under cover of anonymity.


Facing the scourge of pollution and lack of water, activists organise themselves to reverse the trend. Among them are the Forum for Food Sovereignty, the Tunisian Association of Permaculture, the Association for the Safeguarding of the Oasis of Chenini and Land and Humanism Tunisia. These last promote other agricultural practices than the intensive monoculture. “This requires the upgrading of traditional skills. Starting from what is already there, in peasant culture and memory. Then, we must promote Agroecology, permaculture and interest of small patches” support Teycir Ben Naser, Member of Land and Humanism Tunisia.

At Sanhaja, 13 kilometers from Tunis, Land and Humanism Tunisia developed since a quarter exploitation to educational purpose of 2,000 square meters. The members of the association have planted trees 60, some fruit and others not, used as fixing nitrogen. They operate gardens where have used non-catalog seed from Djerba, “seeds that require no pesticides”, says Teycir. On this site of Sanhaja, groups will come to train and share their techniques. They are peasants from the rural areas as much as residents of major cities. “Give to everyone the possibility of eating through the obligation not to limit dialogue to farmers, but to extend it to the whole of society. The alternative agricultural sovereignty will also by the development of vegetated roofs and urban agriculture in the working-class districts of cities in Tunisia”, explains Teycir.

For Eros Sana (author of the report for ‘Reporterre)”, these alternatives can flourish and multiply to the condition of a double awareness. “One of the Tunisian Government, which must realise that its agricultural economic model is outdated. And economic partners of the Tunisia (European Union, IMF, World Bank, etc.), which must abandon the idea of imposing a model productivist, harmful for the environment as for humans“, she writes.

The full article is available in French here