Tunisia raises price of drinking water by up to 23 per cent

Tourist facilities face the steepest increases, with no change for small consumers, as country aims to qualify for IMF help

Water is pumped from a well into a pond to irrigate Hamemi agricultural farm in Kasserine, Tunisia.  Reuters
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The Tunisian government has raised the price of drinking water by as much as 23 per cent, the official gazette said on Tuesday, as the country seeks to reduce subsidies to qualify for International Monetary Fund assistance.

It is the latest in a run of price increases on essential goods in the country over the past few months.

Tunisia, which this year recorded its hottest and driest summer since 1950, is under pressure from international lenders to cut government subsidies in many vital sectors, including at the state-owned water distribution and management company.

Tuesday's decree said the price of water will be unchanged for consumers who use less than 20 cubic metres per trimester. The highest increase is for tourist and agriculture facilities, for which the price per cubic metre has increased by 23 per cent to 1.99 dinars ($0.63).

Other big consumers, including people living in residential complexes, will alsoneed to pay more, with those whose consumption exceeds 40 cubic metres facing a 15 per cent increase to 1.83 dinars and consumers of between 70 and 100 cubic metres per quarter will pay 17 per cent more with immediate effect.

Tunisia has introduced water desalination plants to try to make up for the country’s lack of dams and the effects of climate change.

“Such increases [in water prices] are against all international agreements that Tunisia is signatory of,” Ala Marzougui, president of the Tunisian Observatory for Water, told The National.

“Water is something that is priceless, we cannot speak that way about water. The state should be in charge of its distribution, but not for selling a resource that belongs to all Tunisians.”

According to Mr Marzoug, the solution for solving Tunisia’s water scarcity problem can never be solved by increasing prices, but should rather be tackled through the establishment of a plan for collecting rainwater and the maintenance of the country’s dams.

“At the moment about 50 per cent of our [annual] rainfall is wasted, but of course instead of fixing this we resort to solutions that does necessitate real effort and we target the regular citizen instead,” Mr. Marzoug said.

The European Investment Bank, the lending arm of the EU, has approved a €220 million loan ($233 million) for Tunisia, including €150 million in emergency support for food security, the Tunisian Ministry of Economy said on Sunday.

Tunisia is in a deep financial crisis that has resulted in a shortage of many food commodities in recent weeks. Agriculture Minister Mahmoud Elyes Hamza said the loan will help Tunisia to regularly supply soft wheat.

But such loans are conditional on budget cuts and increases in services provided by the state, something that Mr Marzoug is aware of and says that it has been the reason increases in water prices have been taking place since 2019.

Tunisians have expressed their rising discontent with the Tunisian government’s mishandling of the economic situation in the country, accusing them of targeting only citizens, instead of looking for radical solutions.

“This president knows nothing, all he is good at is begging and giving false promises,” street vendor Oun Naffeti 57, told The National on Wednesday in front of his Christmas goods cart in Lafayette neighbourhood, in central Tunis.

“They keep increasing prices at the expense of the poor citizen, we are turning into lost and desperate creatures in this country,” Mr Naffeti added.

With back-to-back increases in basic services and food supplies in recent months, many Tunisians are no longer surprised by the continuing surge in prices.

“It’s a vicious circle, they increase the flour price, bread gets more expensive, they increase the petrol price, many more goods that need transportation would increase in price of course,” Ikram Souissi, 60, told The National outside a supermarket in Lafayette. “We've got used to it, water is just another ring in this endless circle of raises.”

“We are tired of denunciations and having no listening ear, but there will come a day where a real explosion would take place and citizens will protest because of thirst,” Ala Eddine Marzougui, president of the Tunisian Observatory for Water, told The National.

Updated: December 21, 2022, 5:07 PM