The taps in Tunisia have been dripping for the past six months. Spigots in most regions are shut off from 9 pm to 4 am for seven hours.
Tunisians, who are now fighting a drought that is getting worse, have been ordered by the government to limit their water consumption from April to September. Otherwise, they resolve to be fined or sent to jail.
Now, households must have bottled water for late-night meals and washing. The authorities have also banned potable drinking water to irrigate farmland, green water areas in city centres, clean streets, or wash cars.
The water levels in Tunisia’s 30+ dams have fallen dramatically, with some barriers reaching as low as 17% of their storage capacity.
The Sidi Salem Dam in Tunisia’s northwest provides water for drinking and irrigation to Tunis, the Tunisian Sahel region, cities such as Sfax, and other areas. The newspaper La Presse, quoting Faycel Khemiri as the No. 2 official for dams and hydraulic works at the Agricultural Ministry, reported that the water level in the dam is the lowest since it was built in 1981.
The second official at the Agricultural Ministry is responsible for dams and hydraulic work is Faycel Khemiri.
Climate change caused by humans destroying the earth has increased the likelihood of droughts worldwide. Higher than-average temperatures have dried up land and altered rainfall patterns. Tunisia has been plagued by shortages in the past that have destroyed farmland and palm groves.
Aymen Hmem is a member of an environmental group from Menzel Temime on the northeastern coast, which has an enormous dam on the outskirts.
Concerns are also raised about a hot summer in Tunisia, where temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius. This could increase water consumption and lead to protests.
Already, the country is in an economic crisis. The International Monetary Fund’s $1.9 billion loan agreement for Tunisia to finance the government stalled last year due to political tensions in Tunisia.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Tunisia is facing its worst crisis in a generation. Inflation hovers at around 11%, and there are fewer food supplies.
Water rationing was a baptism of fire for many. It coincided with Ramadan, the Muslim holy month where people break their fast with large gatherings, feasts, and parties, and water usage is usually high.
The Ramadan fast is over, but the summer and tourist season is just around the corner. Tunisia’s 12 million inhabitants rely heavily on tourism, the primary revenue source.
The agriculture ministry is using punitive measures to highlight the severity of the water crisis. Those who wash their cars with tap water or use it for other prohibited uses face fines ranging from 60 to 1,000 dinars (between $20 and $320) or prison sentences of up to nine months in the worst cases. The government can also remove them from the list of distributors for the state-owned water firm Sonede and cut off their supply.
Radhia ESSAMIN of the Tunisian Water Observatory said that the decision to cut off the water supply is not surprising given the alarming water shortage in the country. She said it could have been handled better with a public awareness campaign to prepare people in advance.
“That’s why we think these measures are incomplete.” She said that citizens must be aware of how vital water rationing is before taking any action. “A booklet (explaining water consumption, storage and timing), as well as the amount allowed to be stored, should have been released.”
Abdelkader Hmissi lives outside Tunis and says that while many people have been caught off guard by the severity of the drought and the measures taken to combat its effects, Abdelkader was not.
Hmissi built a water tank two years ago, anticipating a long drought. He now shares the supply.
This tank is the answer. Hmissi added, “My brothers and neighbours also use it.”