In Grim Drought: Tunisians Forced to Ration Water Under Government Ban

by Madison Thomas
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For the past six months, Tunisian residents have had to deal with little water coming out of their taps during the night. The government has restricted them from using any water between 9 PM and 4 AM in most parts of Tunisia including the capital.

In Tunisia, things are getting very tough. Currently, they’re facing a severe drought that’s been going on for five years, so the government is telling people to use less water from April until September or they might get fined or even put in jail.

Homes need bottles of water at night for things like cooking, using the bathroom, and washing up. You’re not allowed to use tap water to irrigate farmland or water parks, or for cleaning streets or cars. This applies everywhere that gets water from the government system; but it doesn’t include places that use wells for their water.

The amount of water inside almost all of Tunisia’s dams is shrinking quickly, some even have as little as 17% full.

The Sidi Salem Dam in Tunisia is providing water for people to drink in cities like Tunis, Sfax and along the Sahel. It also helps grow food by giving water for irrigation. But, according to La Presse newspaper and Faycel Khemiri – the No.2 official from the Agricultural Ministry, there is less water stored at this dam compared to when it was built in 1981.

Due to climate change which is making the Earth hotter, droughts have become more common all over the world. This has caused higher temperatures that make the land drier and changes the amount of rainfall. Tunisia has experienced drought before, which has destroyed farms and olive trees.

Aymen Hmem from an environmental group said that the water usage has become so high, it already reached the “danger line”. In addition to this, Tunisians will have a hard time in summer because temperature can reach very high at up to 40°C (104°F). This could lead to protests over water cuts.

Tunisia is managing through serious economic problems. Last year, negotiations with the International Monetary Fund for a loan of almost two billion dollars fell apart due to political issues. This crisis is considered to be the worst in the nation’s history. Inflation levels are high, at about 11%, and food is getting scarcer according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Recently, the government announced water rationing restrictions – a challenge for many citizens. This announcement happened during the religious holiday of Ramadan when people usually drink lots of water and host big feasts together.

Ramadan is almost done, but it’s going to get hotter soon because of the start of tourist season. Tunisia has about 12 million people and around 850 hotels which rely on tourists for income.

Hotels and hospitals store up extra water during when it is available, so that they have enough when it doesn’t come out of the tap, explained Dridi from the ministry.

The agriculture ministry is really serious about the water situation and has gone so far to punish those who use tap water for washing cars or their other activities that are not allowed. If you get caught, the punishment could be a fine from sixty to one thousand Dinars ($20-$320) with jail-time anywhere from six days up to nine months. Worst of all, you will be taken off the list of people supplied by state-owned water company Sonede which means that you would no longer get any kind of water supply.

Radhia Essamin from the Tunisian Water Observatory said that it was not unexpected to cut off water supplies because of the country’s water shortage. However, she also added that there should have been a warning message given earlier so people can get ready for it in advance.

The speaker said that it was important to raise awareness of water rationing. To do this, she suggested making a booklet to explain the right way to use and store the water.

Abdelkader Hmissi who lives near Tunis commented that he wasn’t all that surprised with the drought or any measures taken against it.

Two years ago, Hmissi built a water tank to prevent a drought from coming. This ended up being helpful with the long-term need for water and now everybody in his neighborhood uses the same tank.

Elaine Ganley from Paris helped make this possible.

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