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Tunisians on the frontlines of battle against a severe drought

A man fills a bottle with drinkable water from a source in Sidi Bou Said, north of Tunis, Wednesday, April 12, 2023.   -  
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Hassene Dridi/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved


With less water falling as rain to fill them, none of Tunisia's thirty dams are even a third full, according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources.

In many Tunisian houses, no water is coming from the tap. Authorities have decided to cut water supply at night since march 31st.

Soumaya Ben Abdallah, who lives in Ariana, an agglomeration part of the capital, feels that the situation is very difficult, especially during Ramadan. Water is essential for ablutions, cooking and housework.

"It is not reasonable to cut off water in the month of Ramadan and let us without water. We have nothing to do, luckily I have a tank to conserve water, I had put water buckets in the bathroom, in the kitchen, look what I do when I want to wash dishes, I fill bowls with water and I use it."

The water distribution company (SONEDE) announced among other measures a ban on using drinking water for irrigation outside Tunis, and on watering green areas within the city.

Rami Trabelsi, a civil society activist in the north-eastern city of Menzel Temime, believes that top priority for water usage should be given to citizens, and the state should instead tackle industrial companies that "deplete the underground water table." 

According to the Tunisian Water Observatory, the water levels in the dams have decreased by 60 to 80%, and some other dams have dropped by 100%, especially in the central or southern regions of Tunisia.

Tunisian dams are witnessing unprecedented low water levels. The water level in the "Hmam" Dam in the town of Menzel Temime has dropped by 70%, according to Aymen Hmem, a member of the Environmental Association in Menzel Temime.

"Currently, we have reached the red line, or the danger line in terms of water scarcity. The dams are almost empty."

The rationing system that is in force is no surprise for water expert Radhia Essamin instead, she believes the state's communication with the population have been poor.

"After these procedures (cutting off the water for 6-7 hours per day), a booklet should have been published explaining about water consumption, storage, timing, and the quantity allowed to be stored," she explains. "That is why we consider these measures incomplete because before taking any measure, the citizen must be made aware of the importance of conserving water so that he accepts any measure and it does not cause an adverse effect."

Tunisia which is in its 5th consecutive year of drought will experience water cuts until September 2023.

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