Addressed to Mr: Pedro Arrojo-Agudo
The special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation
Translated by: Anja Naiji
The Revolution of freedom and dignity broke out in Tunisia in late 2010 resulting in the emergence of a new constitution for the country in January 2014, a constitution that crowned a number of popular movements and demands calling for the consecration of human rights and for ensuring freedom and social justice ,thus establishing a new era that commits the state to formulate new structural and legislative development policies that will guarantee to all citizens the enjoyment of their rights guaranteed by international treaties and conventions signed by the Tunisian state.
Environmental rights were among those provided for the citizens in the new constitution, and were specified especially in article 45, which states that ” The state shall guarantee the right to a sound and balanced environment and contribute to the integrity of the climate. The state shall provide the means to eliminate environmental pollution “and in article 44 specific to the right to water which states that” The right to water is guaranteed. The preservation and rational use of water is the duty of the state and society”. These rights are considered to be a condition for a decent life and a pillar of social peace. In addition to their incorporation into the constitution, environmental rights are enshrined in international human rights conventions and protocols signed by the Tunisian state.
March 22 of each year corresponds to world water day, which celebrates the importance of water as a natural resource that is essential for ensuring decent living and human dignity, as it is indispensable for good health and decent living conditions. Although the right to water and sanitation services are fundamental to human rights, millions of people in Tunisia are deprived of this right, especially those living in rural areas, in the poor parts of the country and many vulnerable groups. According to 2019 statistics, approximately 53% of rural residents are completely deprived of drinkable water; i.e. nearly 2 million people. In addition to the lack of water in many rural areas, there is a total absence of regulated sanitation services, which the State has been content to provide in urban areas, citing the ease of connecting housing communities to the national drinking water and sanitation networks and the difficulty of achieving the same in rural areas due to the dispersion and remoteness of habitations. This discrimination is a flagrant violation of one of the fundamental principles of human rights: that of equal access to rights. Moreover, the State, with its structures, is the main guarantee of the right to water and sanitation. The failure to ensure these rights is a major weakness of the state’s water policy and a complete absence of water justice, which leads to a complex crisis within the community of individuals deprived of their right to water.
Mr. special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation
Through its field visits to support the environmental rights of citizens and their protest movements for the right to water and sanitation, the Tunisian forum for economic and social rights has inspected the various complaints and unfortunate repercussions of the absence of these rights in many regions, which the state has unfortunately faced by silence, contempt and security and judicial proceedings against those who protest to defend their right to drinking water and sanitation.
In the northwest region, which has the largest water reservoir in the country, as well as in the rural areas of Kairouan, hundreds of rural women are forced to walk dozens of kilometers to collect some liters of water, and then carry it on their backs or on those of their livestock (donkeys) through valleys and rugged places, which exposes them to all sorts of dangers. All this effort is made to reach the water sources and natural rivers, which are not submitted to any sanitary control campaign and which are generally exposed to all kinds of pollution by the solids of unknown physical and chemical composition. This daily effort to fetch water causes significant exhaustion among the women, sometimes reaching bone and joint diseases. Some of these women are mothers accompanied by their children on their journey to fetch water. Children have to miss school to help their mothers, which has a negative impact on their school performance.
Furthermore, citizens are deprived of drinking water despite the scheduled projects to provide them with water, for which budgets and implementation programs are allocated without being implemented. Besides the blocked projects, the inhabitants of some areas experience frequent water cuts, which sometimes last for more than two or three years. Many Tunisians are also affected by declining water quality, which has led many to buy bottled water, imposing additional expenses on families, especially those with low incomes. Other families buy from vendors who sell cheaper water compared to bottled one, but its origin is unknown and may be hazardous to their health. Each year, as summer approaches, the thirst crisis worsens and the number of protesters for their right to water and for effective and equitable water policies increases. The map of protests stretches from the north to the south of the country, where water is not only absent from homes, but also from public facilities, health centers and educational institutions, especially in rural areas.
The 1975 water code is the main legislative source that regulates the exploitation, disposal and distribution of water resources to the different productive and potable water sectors. In Tunisia, water policy is mainly oriented towards the treatment of water as a simple commodity to be bought and sold. It does not take its importance in the consolidation of social justice into account. This policy also neglects the aspects of maintaining the sustainability of water and the rationalization of its consumption according to the parameters of sustainable development to guarantee the rights of future generations. In addition, the distribution of water resources is not equitable and does not allow all citizens to have access to it with equal ease and quality.
Mr. Special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation
In view of the continuous deterioration of drinking water supply and sanitation services and with the launch of a governmental program to revise the water journal, the Tunisian forum for economic and social rights and other organizations and associations should contribute to the revision of its vision. We urge you to visit Tunisia to inspect the above-mentioned issues in the water sector, to schedule field visits, to communicate closely with the network of actors in the water and sanitation sectors, and to support our efforts to enshrine the right to water and sanitation for the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups, as well as to emphasize the importance of citizen participation in the evaluation and implementation of public policies through empowerment, accountability and transparency.
The Tunisian forum on economic and social rights
Written by: The President Abd- alrahman Al-hethili
Translated by: Anja Naiji