Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Management in Tunisia

Bizerte in tunisia - water management in Tunisia
Photo 1: Port of Bizerte, Tunisia. (Source: Kristen, Flickr)

Key governmental and non-governmental organizations

Many activities related to water resources management are the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries (MARHP) and the directorates/institutions under its authority. However, all environment-related aspects, including urban sanitation, are the responsibility of the Ministry of the Environment. The Ministry of Public Health is responsible for water control in general. The Ministry of Equipment is responsible for flood management in urban areas.

The MARHP is mainly responsible for public domain management, mobilization and development of water resources, water management projects and agricultural withdrawals as well as providing water resources for domestic and other uses. The main departments within MARHP that play key roles in water resources management are:

• General Directorate of Water Resources (DGRE);

• General Directorate of Rural Engineering and Water Exploitation (DGGREE);

• General Directorate of Dams and Hydraulic Works Department (DGBGTH);

• General Directorate for Development and Conservation of Agricultural Land (DGACTA);

• Bureau of Water Planning and Hydraulic Equilibriums (BPEH);

• Northern Water Canal and Adductions Exploitation Company (SECADENORD).

The MARHP is represented at regional level by the Agricultural Development Regional Office (CRDA), established in each of the 24 governorates. In addition to the MARHP and its subordinates, the governance of the water sector is shared by different ministries and agencies such as the National Water Exploitation and Distribution Company (SONEDE), responsible for drinking water, and the National Office for Sanitation (ONAS).[1]

Affiliated institutions tunisia
Figure 1: Affiliated institutions (ministries and agencies) involved in integrated water resources management. Source: [2].

Laws and regulations that are in use or in preparation

Tunisia has a long tradition of codifying water resources management. Population growth, increasing water demand and the degradation of water quality have led the government to explore ways to modernize the water law framework. The legislative and regulatory framework aimed at promoting investment in and rationalization of the water management system has been the object of several reforms focused on the water sector in general and water conservation in particular. The Water Code promulgated in 1975 governs the allocation of water resources and includes several articles to protect and preserve water resources.[3] A water law reform was initiated in 2009 to reflect the actual social and economic situation in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries to the government in February 2017, and the law was approved by the Council of Ministers in September 2019 for submission to the parliament. The Water Code remains the most appropriate instrument governing infringements committed public water domain and any resulting conflicts.[4]

Several related laws, decrees and related regulations have been enacted as illustrated in Table 5. However, some implementing regulations are still pending, such as the text on drinking water standards. Moreover, some provisions and regulations have not been fully implemented or were rarely applied, such as the provisions regarding the protection of the public water domain and water disconnection for non-payment of bills.

Table 1: Tunisia’s main water sector laws and regulations.[5]

Water allocations• National Water Council Decree No. 407/2010 of 9 March 2010.
Water quality and national drinking water standards• Law 82-66 of 6 August 1982 on standardization and quality. • NT 09 14. • Law 75-16 of 31 March 1975 (Water Code), as amended and supplemented by Law 87-35 of 6 July 1987 and Law of 88-94 of 2 August 1988.
Municipal water supply and sanitation• Law 93-41 of 19 April 1993 on the change of law to create ONAS of 3 August 1974.
Industrial effluent standards• Decree 85-56 of 2 January 1985 on the terms of discharges into the receiving environment, changed in 1991. • Decree 2005-1991 of July 2005 defining the study of environmental impact.
Irrigation and drainage• Law 30/2000 on the development of agricultural land within the public irrigated perimeters (PPI).
Extreme events• Law 75-16 of 31 March 1975 (Water Code), as amended and supplemented by Law 87-35 of 6 July 1987 and Law 88-94 of 2 August 1988.

Financing of the water sector

Water supply (for irrigation and domestic purposes) as well assanitation projects are often very costly. The two main Tunisian agencies responsible for water supply and sanitation services are the National Water Exploitation and Distribution Company and the National Office for Sanitation, which are moving ahead with the objective of full cost recovery for sustainability of services. However, more financing vehicles are needed to implement infrastructure projects.

Tunisia has been very successful in attracting funding from different international donors to achieve progress in the water sector. The majority of interventions are aligned with the priorities of the Tunisian water strategy and have contributed to increased coordination between the different partners. This has resulted in common funding of several projects like PISEAU I and II, financed by the World Bank, BAD, AFD and KfW and focused on the development of irrigation and domestic water systems, andPAPS-Eau, funded by the European Commission to support the government in better preserving water resources and managing demand in the framework of an integrated approach.

Such initiatives are supported by an increasing water sector budget. In 2018, about 60% of the overall budget of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries was allocated to the water sector.[6]

Role of the private sector in water management

Tunisia has recently strengthened its public-private partnership (PPP) legal and institutional framework and intends to use this modality more often in the development of its infrastructure. The historical record on PPPs is generally quite modest and reflects a preference for public sector provision of infrastructure services driven by strong access to concessional lending. In the drinking water sector, no PPP has been signed so far, but the government and the National Water Exploitation and Distribution Company intend to construct a desalination plant through a build-operate-transfer scheme. A new PPP law was passed in 2015, and a PPP unit was created (Instance Générale des PPPs – IGPPP) at the level of the presidency. While it plays an important role, it struggles to provide the necessary expertise in PPP transactions to inexperienced public stakeholders.[7] [8]

[1] WGS Initiative, 2016. Local Water Security Assessment.
[2] Hamdy Nour M et al., 2014. Tunisia Water Sector M&E Rapid Assessment Report.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Closas A and Molle F, 2016. Groundwater Governance in the Arab World – Taking Stock and Addressing the Challenges. IWMI project publication.
[5] Hamdy Nour M et al., 2014. Tunisia Water Sector M&E Rapid Assessment Report.
[6] Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries, 2017. Rapport National du Secteur de l’Eau.
[7] The World Bank, 2018. Program information document. Tunisia Water Sector Reform Project (P162165).
[8] OECD Studies on Water, 2014. Water Governance in Tunisia: Overcoming the Challenges to Private Sector Participation.