Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Challenges in Tunisia

Dam of Kasseb in Tunisia - Shared water resources in Tunisia
Photo 1: The water Dam of Kasseb. (Source: Mohamed Aouichi, Flickr)

Inefficient water use: network leakages, agricultural waste

Between 2010 and 2016, about 69% of the total irrigated areas in Tunisia adopted water-saving technologies, with an efficiency varying between 38% and 85% and an average of 59%, which is far from the desired norm of around 80% in the pressurized networks.[1] [2] The low level of efficiency can be explained not only by the physical losses in the networks but also the administrative losses due to illegal connections and insufficient registration of water meters.

The overall domestic water distribution network performance was estimated at 70.3% in 2017, with about 30% of the incoming water lost during transportation.[3] This indicator has been worsening during the last decade, in part because 25% of this network is more than 37 years old. Some measures have been taken in recent years, such as the renovation of the existing network. The aim is to gradually improve efficiency to 88.9%, saving around 86 MCM of water. This is equivalent to approximately 20% of the volume of water consumed and invoiced and exceeds the capacity of four seawater desalination plants currently under construction.[4] [5] [6]

Internal disputes over water

Competition for water between the tourism and agriculture sectors is mainly observed in coastal and certain inland areas during the summer months, when both sectors make large demands on the limited water resources. Some regions have opted to develop new tourist projects in the littoral zones, monopolizing limited land and water resources at the expense of small agricultural businesses, contributing to social conflicts and environmental problems, among others. This competition has strong effects on the economic development of both sectors, mainly in the south where tourism is experiencing strong growth.[7]

Political and economic constraints

The various national water strategies that are supposed to take into account the multiple dimensions of water resources management have been developed without adequate consideration for the participation of all stakeholders or a structured management system across decision-making contexts. Water policy is currently highly centralized, and water users are partly involved in agricultural water management through agricultural development groups, but reforms are underway to encourage decentralization.[8] At the same time, financial constraints are increasing and insufficient synergy between the different institutions operating in the water sector means opportunities are overlooked to pool resources, harmonize activities and reduce costs.[9] [10]

Public awareness and education campaigns

The government has run public water conservation campaigns in light of the 2050 water strategy currently being developed (see section 9).t all levels of society. The aim is to change attitudes and behaviours to improve water use efficiency.[11] The Ministry of the Environment has given the water sector special attention by supporting the environmental education activities run by associations, universities, training centres and environmental clubs. These campaigns are expected to become more numerous in the coming years, particularly in light of the 2050 water strategy currently being developed (see section 9).

Climate change mitigation and adaptation

A 2007 study by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries estimated a temperature increase of about 1.1°C by 2030 and 2°C by 2050, which will affect a variety of factors influencing the frequency of droughts. Indeed, the possible 28% decrease of water resources due to climate change has led to the development of a new strategy to adapt to and mitigate current and future water supply and demand imbalances across the country. This strategy recommends the revision of the water distribution and demand management programme in terms of water share between regions and users, the different sectors and pricing for water users.

[1] Chibani A, 2018. Climate Change Mitigation in Tunisia: Challenges and Progress.
[2] Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, 2017. Rapport National du Secteur de l’Eau.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Frija A et al., 2017. Potential adaptations of the Tunisian agricultural sector to water scarcity. Economic Research Forum
[5] SONEDE, n.d. Chiffres clés 1968-2018.
[6] Kis A et al., 2016. Water Demand Management in the Context of Water Services – Tunisia. Report prepared by Regional Centre for Energy Policy Research.
[7] Chahed J et al., 2010. Water scarcity and food security: A global assessment of water potentiality in Tunisia. In Martinez-Cortina L, Garrido A and Lopez-Gunn E, eds. Re-thinking Water and Food. London, UK: Taylor & Francis Group.
[8] Closas A and Molle F, 2016. Groundwater Governance in the Arab World – Taking Stock and Addressing the Challenges. IWMI project publication.
[9] Closas A et al., 2017. Groundwater Governance in Tunisia – A Policy White Paper.
[10] Hamdy Nour M et al., 2014. Tunisia Water Sector M&E Rapid Assessment Report.
[11] Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, 2017. Rapport National du Secteur de l’Eau.