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Social Conflict in Water Resource Management and its Environmental Impacts in South-Eastern Tunisia

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The water scarcity issue is highly relevant in Tunisia, as well as in the whole Mediterranean region. The causes exist due to the natural physical scarcity of water that is typical in arid environments, together with the presence of anthropogenic pressures, such as overexploitation of aquifers, the contamination of fresh and groundwater resources, increasing water demand by the agricultural, domestic, tourist and industrial sectors, and difficult institutional regulatory settings and law enforcement related to water management. The agricultural sector is the greatest water consumer, amounting to 80% of the total consumption of the Southern Mediterranean countries (Chrik, Ghorbel and Zouari, 2005). Paradoxically, the highest consumption rates occur when the seasonal scarcity is worse: in summer, the water demand presented by the agricultural and tourist sectors dramatically increases. The situation is particularly sensitive in coastal areas, where tourist resorts are mainly concentrated. Intensive water use produces marine ingression in the aquifers, thus worsening the quality of water used for drinking, irrigation and ecosystem functionality.

The linkage between environmental and social degradation is particularly evident in poor and marginal areas. Poor communities increase their vulnerability if they depend on a depleted source. Therefore, the need to protect a natural resource has to be coupled with the need to sustain the local sources of income, e.g. by supporting the acquisition of technical options to rationalise the water demand or by providing alternative solutions to those relying on the endangered resource. A cooperative approach between communities and institutions is a fundamental prerequisite for a sustainable development of the target areas. In all cases, decisions have to be made through processes involving stakeholder participation. In contrast, the application of top-down decisions and partial or specific sectoral solutions can constitute a cause for social and institutional conflicts.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2008

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