The high-priced cost of climate change... Water shortage is emptying Tunisians' pockets

Writer: Salma Arafa - Translator: Amira Gawdat
الثلاثاء 09 يوليو 2024 | 08:29 مساءً

The water shortage has turned the simplest tasks that Amal (30 years old) performs in her daily life into an arduous task, at a time when years of drought continue to hit Tunisia due to the worsening effects of climate change.

Amal Zprkini, who works in the field of teaching plastic arts and lives in Tunis, accompanied by her husband and child who is not more than two years old, narrated in her interview with “Green in Arabic” how she specifically suffered during the last month of Ramadan from the increase of her family burdens.

Amal says that the water outage affected “daily practices, such as cooking, cleaning, ablution, and practicing worship, especially with an infant in the house.”

During recent years, the rates of rain falling on Tunisia, which is classified among the countries most suffering from water scarcity, have decreased. This led to a decline in dam reserves to a level that the country had never witnessed before, and frequent outages became a part of Tunisians’ lives.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the rate of temperature increase in North Africa was the most rapid between 1960 and 2020, compared to the rest of the other regions of the African continent.

Women... The most prominent victims

In his interview with “Green in Arabic”, Tunisian water resources expert “Hussein Al-Rahili” believes that women are the most affected group by water outages, because they are often responsible for the details of the daily life of the entire family. “Women alone bear the suffering of fetching water from outside if water is cut off from homes for long periods.”

مصدر الصورة:  FETHI BELAID/AFP/ Getty ImagesCredit: FETHI BELAID/AFP/ Getty Images

But the effects of water outages are not limited to livelihood impacts only, but also have economic impacts. Amal points out that the decline in the productivity of agricultural crops, including vegetables and grains, and the lack of available fodder for livestock, contributed to the scarcity of food supplies, resulting in the high cost of living.

Water shortages impacted various sectors of the Tunisian economy, the first of which is the agricultural sector. It also indicates more pessimistic expectations.

According to World Bank estimates, the Tunisian economy is expected to lose more than $1 billion annually due to drought by 2030, that is, in just 6 years.

Bottled water crisis

Amal and her husband were also forced, like many Tunisians, to buy large quantities of bottled water. The market for which has boomed recently, which causes great harm to the environment, in addition to its financial cost.

According to the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHA) issued in 2022, Tunisia ranks fourth in the world in terms of consumption of bottled water.

The use of mineral water products contributes to the release of more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, starting with the manufacturing processes of bottles, which contain large amounts of plastic, and ending with their arrival in landfills.

The maximum official price for mineral water, as announced by the Tunisian Ministry of Trade and Export Development in August 2023, ranges from half a Tunisian dinar for a 0.5-liter bottle to approximately 1 dinar for a two-liter bottle.

The burden of purchasing bottled water coincides with the fact that the minimum wage in Tunisia is limited to less than 430 dinars per month (less than 140 US dollars) for workers in non-agricultural professions, working 48 hours per week, and less than 370 dinars (less than 120 dollars) for those who work only 40 hours per week.

Water bills

There is another aspect of the burdens placed on Tunisians. Last March, the authorities announced a new increase in the prices of drinking water fees by more than 15%, provided that the increase does not include small consumers whose consumption is or less than 20 cubic meters over a period of 3 months.

Amal protests the decision, saying that her family is unable to keep up with the prices of life's basics, such as food and other things.

Water and the middle class

Dr. Hussein Al-Rahili pointed out in his interview with “Green in Arabic” that the Tunisian middle class is the group most affected by the decision to increase water prices, because its consumption exceeds these quantities, indicating that the implementation of the periodic water cutting system had a significant impact on the daily life traditions of the residents of the Arab country.

He continues that the recently announced increase decision is the third of its kind in 4 years, as part of a five-year plan to achieve financial balance related to water exploitation and distribution, but it does not aim to rationalize consumption, describing the water crisis in Tunisia as “multidimensional.”

Infrastructure crisis

In statements reported by the British newspaper “The Guardian”, Iman Rice, director of the freshwater program at the World Wide Fund for Nature in Tunisia, points out that most of the infrastructure in Arab countries dates back to the 1950s, and has not been well maintained since the events of 2011.

According to the Fund's estimates, 30% of water in Tunisia leaks before reaching the taps.

Financing water projects

Trying to get out of the crisis imposes more economic burdens on the Arab country to provide the necessary funds for financing. The size of the budget allocated for investment in the water sector, in the 2024 budget, amounted to more than 200 million US dollars.

But loans constitute an essential part of the funds that Tunisia uses to confront the crisis. For example, the African Development Fund announced a loan worth more than $8 million to improve the treatment of wastewater for use in irrigating crops, after the authorities banned the use of drinking water for that purpose.