Tunisia must improve water management and ensure access to clean supplies, UN expert says


Tunisia’s Government must improve water network management and end the overexploitation of aquifiers in the country, issues that are growing more urgent in the context of global climate change and the need to ensure all people have access to clean water, a UN expert said.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, made the calls at the end of his visit to Tunisia from 18 to 29 July.

“Water scarcity cannot justify the non-compliance to the human rights to drinking water and sanitation. Tunisia’s Government ought to prioritize drinking water, reserving the highest water quality available to people regardless of how profitable other uses such as agri-business irrigation or phosphate exploitation might be,” Arrojo-Agudo said.

Tunisia’s Government should put an end to the overexploitation of aquifers as a basis for adapting to climate change, close illegal wells, and make the use of water meters compulsory to control water extraction.

“Aquifers are the water lungs of nature, and must be managed as strategic reserves to cope with the extraordinary droughts that will tend to be more prolonged and intense,” he said.

During his visit, Arrojo-Agudo met with government representatives, local authorities, community members, and members of civil society.

He commended Tunisia for its efforts in extending its national water supply network, and commended its water and sanitation social tariff system, which guarantees affordable prices. But while the Government has taken steps to improve urban sanitation systems, rural populations do not have any support and face contaminated supplies.

Arrojo-Agudo expressed concern over leaks that lead to frequent water cuts and contaminant intrusions into the network that break the drinkability of the water, and called on authorities to promote a plan for the renovation of networks.

“I suggest supplying a small amount of safe water per person for drinking to rural communities and schools every week, to help prevent them from falling ill or having to buy water from vendors,” he said.

“I hope for a decentralization process, in which municipalities would play an increasingly important role in water and sanitation services,” the expert said.

Arrojo-Agudo has presented the preliminary findings of his visit to the Government. He will submit a comprehensive report with his recommendations to the Human Rights Council in September 2023.

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