Saturday, September 22, 2012

Water crisis in the former oasis of Tunisia

Even after the Arab Spring stormed thru the little country of Tunisia, people there are still having trouble getting access to basic services.  This summer the people of Tunisia had to suffer thru mandated water cuts. The government says the official reason is because of short supply, but the people blame the Phosphate industry. Residents say that the industry uses most off the water, and contaminates whatever is left over. This is one of the reasons why experts say there may soon be a war caused by water scarcity in Africa.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Ihsan Bouabid looks into the water management issue.
Local people say the water issue has been an everyday reality for decades, ever since the creation of the Compagnie des Phosphates de Gafsa (CPG) in 1897.
“Tap water is contaminated by chemicals produced by the phosphate plants,” Hayat Benrejeb, who lost her husband to lung cancer three years ago and lives in Gafsa’s old quarters, tells IPS.
Benrejeb says the problem is a “time bomb waiting to explode” because school children are suffering increasingly from asthma and pneumonia, illnesses that could only be explained by the presence of sulfuric fumes.
CPG’s mining operations are mainly based around the deposits in the Gafsa basin located in the south of the country, north of Chott el Jerid. The company produces eight million metric tons of merchant-grade phosphate annually.
This production is also vital for the domestic industry for phosphoric acid and fertiliser production through the Groupe Chimique Tunisien (GCT) headquartered in the Mediterranean port Sfax, 190 km from Gafsa city.
“Water supply and pollution issues alike have deepened over the years after high volumes of water started being pumped for the local chemical industries,” says Benrejeb. “Our region did not benefit from any profit made by these companies. We only inherited the ills left behind.”
Now, most people have to buy mineral bottled water for daily consumption, she says.

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