Tunisia is a marginal country hydrologically and it has adopted a number of distinctive methods of water management for agriculture. The central region supports modern dam irrigation, whilst traditional rainwater harvesting is practiced in the south. These contrasting techniques are described and evaluated in terms of sustainability using empirical field data and secondary literature for two study sites. Research focuses primarily on the physical environment, but socio-cultural and economic viability are also examined. Analysis indicates that traditional water management advantageously partitions the continuum dividing hazards and resources through subtle manipulation of the environment. A potentially hazardous environment is rendered secure by resourceful water management based on community action and cumulative knowledge. This practice minimizes community dependency and local economic imbalance. With dam irrigation, carrying capacity is established more forcibly by centralized control in order to place society within world markets. An almost total break from environmental variability is made in the short term, but this can lead to disequilibrium over longer durations. Additionally, the spatial and social distributions of development are uneven. In Tunisia, maintenance of traditional methods can reduce the negative impacts caused by modern programmes and support their positive characteristics. A mix of both methods offers a foundation to sustainable water supply in the new millennium.
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