A weak economy is the number one issue facing Tunisia. The country is desperately trying to attract domestic and foreign investment to increase agricultural and industrial production. An increase in production will create jobs, increase the tax base and reduce the social strife caused by the high unemployment rate. An increase in production and economic expansion, however, cannot take place without solving the water crisis in Tunisia.
Water is the only natural resource which can limit economic growth. When companies evaluate locations to expand operations, they have three critical requirements. They require a skilled workforce and a dependable and uninterrupted availability of electricity and water. Tunisia has the unenviable distinction of being classified by the World Bank as being in a state of “Absolute Water Scarcity.” The average MENA region country has 1200 cubic meters/capita of renewable water supplies. The World Bank considers less than 500 cubic meters/capita as “Absolute Water Scarcity.” Currently, Tunisia has renewable water supplies of approximately 400 cubic meters/capita.
Agriculture represents about 10% of Tunisia’s GDP, however, it is responsible for 80% of the country’s water consumption. Due to an on going drought and a critical depletion in water reserves, crops have been taken out of production to divert water supplies for citizen consumption. In areas like Jendouba, this has resulted in a loss of production at food processing facilities, reduced employment, wages and company profits. Frequently, the government announces initiatives to increase agricultural production, but this is not sustainable without increased water availability for irrigation.
Manufacturing and mining also represent significant percentages of GDP in Tunisia. Huge volumes of water are essential to production. The production of many Tunisian manufacturing and mining operations is limited solely by a lack of water. Highly efficient water reclamation and reuse technologies are available which significantly reduce reliance on natural water resources. The Tunisian government and private industry, however, are slow in the requirement and implementation of water reuse. Industrial reuse can have a quick and substantial impact on reducing the stress on natural water resources.
Tunisia has a well educated, skilled and available workforce. Tunisia is one of the few African countries which has a reliable, uninterrupted supply of electricity. The lack of available, much less expandable, water supply is the major resource preventing economic expansion. Tunisian government officials must approach the water crisis as a national emergency with the highest priority. A heightened sense of urgency may help the struggling Tunisian economy grow.
By Christopher E. Martin/CEO Global Enviro Science