Facing Water Challenges in Tunisia: A WWDR3 Case Study

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Amid economic growth and urbanization, this developing country has made big gains in water and sanitation coverage, as well as a shift towards long term sustainable practices, but faces mounting tensions between competing users.


Focus Areas

Water Supply and Sanitation, IWRM

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

Promoting Sustainable Use of Scarce Resources
Source:UN World Water Development Report 3 (2009)

To promote economic growth, past policies encouraged water use through preferential rates or subsidies. The low value thus imputed to water gave users the mistaken impression that resources were abundant. This led to overexploitation of water resources – especially groundwater resources, from which 75% of irrigation water is abstracted. Because of the large share of agriculture in water consumption, efforts have been made since the late 1980s to increase efficiency of water use by charging a user fee for irrigation water. From 1990 to 2000, the price was increased by 9% per year. The total of user fees collected quadrupled between 1991 and 2003, permitting recovery of much of the cost of running and maintaining the water system. In 1995, a vast irrigation rehabilitation programme was begun, involving a generous incentive package in which small agricultural holdings were offered subsidies of up to 60% of the cost of modernizing installations. As a result, by 2007 some 80% of the irrigation system had been improved with sprinkler systems, drip irrigation and the like. This strategy has allowed Tunisia to stabilize demand for irrigation water despite the growing extent of the area under irrigation (Figure 1.2). To maximize freshwater availability, other methods, such as recycling of treated wastewater and desalination of brackish water, are also being adopted. Desalinated water is reserved for essential uses such as drinking water, meeting the needs of tourist facilities and certain industrial uses (chiefly in food processing and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries) in regions where local water resources are insufficient or of poor quality. However, tariffs are identical for all water, regardless of whether it is desalinated or not. Although the official policy is to provide access to clean drinking water for all, which has bolstered the principle of social equity, the approach to tariff-setting does not necessarily favour protection and appropriate valuation of the resources.

In summary, Tunisia is a semi-arid country with limited water resources in which desertification is reducing the availability of arable land. Modern irrigation techniques, promoted since 1995, have allowed optimum utilization of water resources. In recent decades, water and sanitation coverage has increased, especially in rural areas. Increasing water demand in various sectors has led to increasing tension, with each trying to satisfy ever-increasing demand for water. Application of integrated water resources management has helped create an enabling environment for a flourishing and productive economy driven by the service sector. To retain its competitive edge, it remains essential for Tunisia to continue implementing policies geared towards sustainable socio-economic development by reconciling user needs with the social and environmental value of water.

Results and Impact

Lessons for Replication

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions


See also

Besbes, M., Hamdane, A., Chahed, J. and Hamza, M. 2008. Tunisia Case Study Report (in French), executive summary. (Draft.)

King, L., Nasr, Z., Almohamad, H. and Maag, C. C. 2007. Le Climat. Stratégie nationale d’adaptation de l’agriculture tunisienne et des écosystèmes aux changements climatiques, Ch. 7.2. Eschborn, Germany/Tunis, GTZ/MARH.

Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources (MARH)/GTZ. 2006. Elaboration d’une étude nationale d’adaptation de l’agriculture tunisienne et des écosystèmes aux changements climatiques. Tunis/Eschborn, Germany, MARH (Direction Générale des Etudes et du Développement Agricole)/GTZ.

WHO/UNICEF. 2008. Latest JMP Country Files. Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation. http://documents.wssinfo.org/resources/documents.html (Accessed December 2008.)

External Resources


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