Tunisia is a country concerned by water scarcity for multiple reasons including arid climate, highly variable rainfall, low levels of groundwater, industrialisation, urbanisation and a previous over-exploitation of water resources.
The national economy depends heavily on irrigated agriculture, as 30-40% of overall agricultural output, and is heavily linked to food security for an ever-increasing population. Such agricultural methods consume approximately 80% of available water resources.
In 1986, following recommendations of an Agricultural Structural Adjustment Program, a series of large scale irrigation policy reforms were implemented with the aim of conserving water resources and encouraging demand management in the irrigation sector, with greater technical co-operation between farmers.
Law no. 99-43 and Decree no. 99-1819, both from 1999, created Water Users Associations (WUAs), or ‘Groupement de développement Agricole’ (GDA), linking together all local farmers within a certain irrigated area, increasing their technical expertise in decision-making, reducing resource management costs and inviting direct public participation, with successful results as mirrored across the Mediterranean and North African region.
- Tunisia depends heavily on irrigated agriculture, consisting of 30-40% of total Tunisian agricultural output, and consuming 83% of Tunisia’s available water resources.
- Tunisia sought to conserve water resources and encourage demand management in the irrigation sector, via the creation of ‘National Water Strategy.’
- As part of this strategy, a range of different policy reforms were implemented, notably the establishment of Water Users Associations (WUAs), or ‘Groupement de développement Agricole’ (GDAs), and the use of incentives to adopt technologies for water at field level.
- The aim of the WUAs was to create self-sufficient collectives which, through greater technical understanding and group cooperation of a single irrigated area, could better conserve natural resources, improve agricultural works and equipment whilst increasing agricultural outputs and improving productivity.
Law 99-43 of Mai, 10, 1999 relating to development groups in the agriculture and fishing sector (GDA) as modified by Law 2004-24 of March 15 2004.
Loi n° 99-43 du 10 mai 1999, relative aux groupements de developpement dans le secteur de l’agriculture et de la peche [In French]
Loi n° 2004-24 du 15 mars 2004, modifiant et complétant la loi n° 99-43 du 10 mai 1999, relative aux groupements de développement dans le secteur de l’agriculture et de la pêche [In French]
Décret nº 99-1819 portant approbation des statuts-type des groupements de développement dans le secteur de l’agriculture et de la pêche [In French]
Décret nº 2005-978 portant approbation de la modification des statuts-type des groupements de développement dans le secteur de l’agriculture et de la pêche [In French]
‘When it became clear that the new constitution had been adopted – with an overwhelming majority – there was a sense of joy, pride and relief inside the assembly’
North African-based Multimedia Journalist – Naveena Kottoor.
Constitution Tunisienne de 2014 [In French]
After the collapse of the 20 year regime of President Ben Ali during the ‘Arab Spring,’ Tunisia experienced a period of political and social upheaval which led to the formation of a new Constituent Assembly. On June 1 2013, 200 of 216 members of the National Constituent Assembly voted in favour of the draft Constitution, came into force the 26 January 2014 and states under Article 44 that ’The right to water shall be guaranteed‘.
The new Constitution is a landmark document hailed as one of the most progressive in the region, with freedom of religion, information, women’s rights, and protection of natural resources all protected under its provisions, with UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon hailing the constitution as a “historic milestone” and that “Tunisia can be a model to other peoples who are seeking reform.”
Chapter 1: General Principles
Article 12: The state shall seek to achieve sound use of natural resources, balance between regions, social justice and sustainable development, with reference to development indicators and in accordance with the principle of positive discrimination.
Article 13: Natural resources are the property of the Tunisian people and the State exercises sovereignty over them on their behalf.
Chapter 2: Rights and Liberties
Article 31: Freedom of opinion, thought, expression, media and publication shall be guaranteed. These freedoms shall not be subject to prior censorship.
Article 44: The right to water shall be guaranteed. Conservation and the rational use of water shall be a duty of the State and society.
Article 45: The state guarantees the right to a healthy and balanced environment and the right to participate in the protection of the climate. The state shall provide the necessary means to eradicate pollution of the environment.
Article 46: The state commits to protect women’s accrued rights and work to strengthen and develop those rights. The state guarantees the equality of opportunities between women and men to have access to all levels of responsibility in all domains. The state works to attain parity between women and men in elected Assemblies. The state shall take all necessary measures in order to eradicate violence against women.
Sustainable Development and Rights for Future Generations Commission
Article 129: The Commission for Sustainable Development and the Rights of Future Generations shall be consulted on draft laws related to economic, social and environment issues and on development planning. The Commission shall give its opinions on issues relevant to its specialisations
Tunisia is one of the most arid countries in the world and suffers from grave water scarcity worsened by infrequent and irregular rain. Acutely aware of the advanced exploitation of its water resources, Tunisia has introduced specialist legislation and public policy to combat the geographically inherent problems that the country faces. By more efficiently controlling its remaining water resources, Tunisia has sought to reduce and alleviate the pressures of climate change, urbanisation and population growth whilst securing its future via the adoption and implementation of more sustainable long-term approaches.
As part of this strategy, a range of different policy reforms were implemented, notably the promotion of Water Users Associations (WUAs) or ‘Groupement de développement Agricole’ (GDAs). The price of irrigation water was also increased to stabilise and improve usage efficiency, as well as allowing re-investment back to WUAs for operations and maintenance costs, and incentives were adopted for water technologies at field level.
Unlike other WUAs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, through long-term planning, Tunisia has created a complex and diverse water infrastructure. This has allowed the country to mobilise and exploit limited available water resources, simultaneously adapting the policy to contend with growing shortages caused through the repercussions of global climate change.
Tunisia has focused on agriculture and (small-scale) irrigation as one component of agricultural projects, allowing for the better integration of irrigation within the wider framework of overall agricultural production strategy. The aim of the WUAs is to provide self-sufficient collectives, with greater technical understanding and group cooperation of a single irrigated area, to reduce irrigated water consumption. These collectives determine the cost of irrigation water prices under their authority as well as creating their own budgets, stabilising the cost of irrigated water and effectively managing the total drain on natural resources, creating semi self-sustainable farming units.
What also makes the Tunisia model unique is that the delivery of water to user groups gives them the responsibility for both water distribution and fee collection at the local level. A rotational method for equitable allocation of water by day, time and duration, allows for supply proportional to the irrigated area. Consequently, this gives the WUAs the power to effectively, efficiently and resourcefully manage their own water supplies at a level that can constantly be adapted to the needs of the community without having to go through a centralised bureaucratic processes that slows down implementation.
These multi-level policies have had a profound effect upon the composition of rural communities, where farmers and wider public participation have given communities – through direct involvement – the ability to shape their own future, with a reduction in rural poverty levels to below 5% (2015). The empowerment of women, youth and the elderly within these communities is also another major positive to WUAs, where females now have access to training programs, can participate at local WUA meetings, and gain technical knowledge, where normally in Tunisian society they would of otherwise have been marginalised regarding agricultural policy. Furthermore, WUAs have fostered collaboration between the young and old involved in community projects, which not only shape their lives, but enable inter-generational co-operation to safeguard natural resources for future generations.
Our “Best Policies” are those that meet the Future Just Lawmaking Principles and recognise the interconnected challenges we face today. The goal of principled policy work is to ensure that important universal standards of sustainability and equity, human rights and freedoms, and respect for the environment are taken into account. It also helps to increase policy coherence between different sectors.
- Since the 1970s, long-term government strategies have led to water resources being used in a more economical and sustainable manner.
- WUAs can create self-sustaining units that limit the depletion of natural water resources, whilst increasing food security for the wider population due to the high dependence on irrigated agricultural output in Tunisia.
- Water resource mobilisation and previous exploitation is already highly advanced. Even with the implementation of innovative policy, increased urbanisation, population growth, industrialisation and climate change are accelerating water usage beyond a level that can be controlled by sustainable techniques and usage alone.
- Tunisia has overcome difficulties of scarce resources to provide access to safe drinking water, at a level of almost 100% in urban areas and 90% in rural areas, with good quality drinking water provided to both.
- Thanks to government integrated strategies, Tunisia has been able to lower poverty to less than 5% of the population.
- Equitable division of water resources amongst WUAs has ensured greater access for all users of the system to water.
- The control of water flow and irrigated water prices has increased socio-economic stability, transparency and accountability internally within rural farming communities.
- Due to the high mobilisation of Tunisian water resources, policy-makers have had to adapt water strategy to contend with alarming trends of urbanisation, industrialisation, climate change and a growing population, all detrimental to natural resources and ecosystems.
- By managing the demand for high water use in agriculture, water can be saved in regions where the resource is already stretched to the limit, alleviating pressure on natural resources and ecosystems elsewhere.
- WUAs have enabled a greater efficiency of water usage resulting in a stabilisation of total water usage.
- WUAs have enabled a greater participation of farmers and the wider population in achieving water security through their direct involvement in collective irrigation.
- The population actively participate in meetings of WUAs that include farmers, adults, men, women and youth, as well as political and administrative authorities, other water management associations, civil society, and representatives of the Farmers’ Union (UNAP).
- Online forums have been created by the Ministry of Agriculture where Tunisians can share expertise, experiences and gain further knowledge of water policy and conservation.
- Social capital has been strengthened and the population empowered through the implementation and coaching of agricultural development groups.
- These locally controlled groups enable information sharing, with increased technical expertise, and a greater outreach of information regarding water conservation and practices that encourage more economical water usage.
- Since the 1970’s, Tunisian governments have recognised the need to formulate and implement policy to combat short-term and long-term water scarcity under the 1975 Water Code.
- The number of WUAs has risen from around 100 in 1993 to 1250 in 2009 covering a managed agricultural area of approximately 188,000 hectares of irrigated lands.
- The scale of the transfer of power by the government to local communities demonstrates a recognition that the technical expertise, experience and vision of farmers increases the likelihood of a more efficient system under decentralisation.
- The creation of WUAs has enabled technical expertise sharing, pooling of resources and the creation of a more efficient system that has increased the overall outputs of irrigated agricultural land.
- Tunisia maintains the highest levels of drinking water and sanitation in the whole of the North African region.
- WUAs have played a key role in ensuring communication between local communities and national, as well as international, agricultural organisations. This has helped to provide extension services and support to oasis populations.
- As well as irrigated agriculture, WUA projects also address the creation and rehabilitation of small scale systems served by collective wells and small dams, which improve water access and sanitation for rural communities.
- Tunisia uses a different approach by focusing on agriculture and including (small scale) irrigation as one component in agriculture projects. This allows for better integration of irrigation with the overall agricultural production strategy.
- Gender, youth and elderly empowerment have been benefits of WUAs, where interrelated and integrated community work has enabled cross-sectional participation.
- The support of WUAs helped the development of partnerships with a series of partner organisations such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Institute of Arid Regions.
- The creations of WUAs were part of wider government reforms, implementing strategies that would protect other natural resources.
- With their lands and livelihoods now under their own control, farmers have been given the ability to secure their own futures, where they can take responsibility and initiative in safeguarding their food and water security.
- WUAs have had a positive impact upon wider Tunisian agriculture. Further access to water for animals has allowed 125,000 ha of rangeland to be opened up, which has strengthened the wider Tunisian agriculture sector.
Tunisia is a semi-arid country with limited water resources where the effects of desertification have reduced the availability of arable land. Since the passing of The Water Code of 1975, Tunisia has been characterised by water legislation that has been adapted to meet growing resource mobilisation and exploitation by different users and focuses on water quality and environmental problems.
To conserve water resources and encourage demand management in the irrigation sector, a national water saving strategy was implemented. In 1986, following recommendations by the Tunisian Agricultural Structural Adjustment Program, there were a series of large scale irrigation policy reforms which aimed to improve regional and local management.
In the 1990’s, Water Users Associations (WUAs) or ‘Groupement de développement Agricole‘ (GDA) were created. These WUAs grouped local farmers of a single irrigated area together, allowing for a pooling of technical expertise, cooperative decision-making and a reduction in resource management costs. Since then, there has been a continued rise in the use of WUAs from around 100 in 1993 to 1250 in 2009, covering a managed agricultural area of approximately 188,000 hectares of irrigated lands.
The 2011 Arab Spring led to the collapse of the 20 year regime of President Ben Ali and Tunisia experienced a period of political and social upheaval which led to the formation of a new Constituent Assembly. On June 1 2013, 200 of 216 members of the National Constituent Assembly voted in favour of the draft, which came into force the 26 January 2014 and states under its Article 44 that ’The right to water shall be guaranteed‘.
The new Constitution directly addresses issues related to climate, environment and natural resource management. In its Preamble, it mentions “the need to participate in climate security and providing a healthy environment, so as to ensure the sustainability of our natural resources and the continuation of a peaceful existence for future generations”. Articles 12 and 45 respectively stress the necessity of ‘a rational exploitation of national resources’ and the role of the State to guarantee ‘the right to a healthy and balanced environment and the participation to a safe climate” and “to provide the resources necessary to eliminate environmental pollution”. Furthermore, Article 129 highlights the fact that “projects concerning commercial, social and environmental issues as well as development plans” have to build on key principles related to “sustainable development and the right of future generations”.
- Create self-sufficient collectives, increasing agricultural outputs and improving productivity.
- Conserve water resources and encourage demand management in the irrigation sector, via the creation of ‘National Water Strategy.’
- The informing of WUA members of the most reliable agricultural and fishing techniques to improve agricultural and fishing activities.
- The equipping of their areas of intervention with agricultural and rural equipment and infrastructure.
- The establishment of cooperation and exchange of knowledge in agriculture and fishing with other such organisations, both local and foreign.
- The achievement of all missions relevant to the collective interests of their members.
- Reducing water stresses in water vulnerable areas of the country.
Décret nº 99-1819 portant approbation des statuts-type des groupements de développement dans le secteur de l’agriculture et de la pêche [in French]
This decree provides for ‘model statutes’ for development corporations in the agriculture and fishing sectors. Of particular interest is Article 5, providing the example aims of such groups:
– the protection of natural resources
– the carrying-out of agricultural work and fishing services
– the equipping of their areas with the necessary rural equipments
Law 99-43 of Mai, 10, 1999 relating to development groups in the agriculture and fishing sector (GDA) as modified by Law 2004-24 of March 15 2004.
Loi n° 99-43 du 10 mai 1999, relative aux groupements de developpement dans le secteur de l’agriculture et de la peche [in French]
Loi n° 2004-24 du 15 mars 2004, modifiant et complétant la loi n° 99-43 du 10 mai 1999, relative aux groupements de développement dans le secteur de l’agriculture et de la pêche [in French]
Article 4 outlines the mission of the development corporations:
– the protection of natural resources, the rationalisation of their use and safekeeping,
– the equipping of their areas of intervention with agricultural and rural equipment and infrastructure,
– the informing of their members of the most reliable agricultural and fishing techniques to improve agricultural and fishing activities
– the assistance of bodies concerned with the measurement of agrarian situations
– the establishment of cooperation and exchange of knowledge in agriculture and fishing with other such organisations, both local and foreign,
– the achievement of all missions relevant to the collective interests of their members.
Since the passing of the legislation on WUAs, positive results have been witnessed in the water management of irrigated systems.
- As a result of national strategies that integrate different areas of public water policy, Tunisia has been able to achieve 100% urban access and 90.5% rural access to drinking water.
- The ‘Société Nationale d’Exploitation et de Distribution des Eaux’ (SONEDE) and the 1260 WUAs ensure an overall rural drinking water service rate of greater than 90%.
- While water consumption initially increased due to the extension of irrigated areas, WUAs have led to declining total water consumption for agriculture, resulting in a reduction of agricultural water insecurity across Tunisia.
- The development of a system of irrigation zones, has allowed the country to maintain a stable growing agricultural system, despite increasing problems related to urbanisation, climate change, urban migration and continued population growth.
- Total output for irrigated agriculture has also seen an increase, with studies reporting that WUAs – depending on wide ranging variables from size to area – are operating above 80% efficiency.
- Rather than relying on state funding as before, WUAs are in control of the management of their own irrigation systems, resulting in self-sustainable financial management.
- The sharing of technical expertise, experience and manpower has enabled a positive decrease in total labour hours.
- Long-term public water policy has also allowed the implementation of a number of innovative supporting actions such as applied research, and improved agricultural marketing, that has allowed the sector to continue to grow while reinforcing the infrastructure that has already been created.
- Integrated strategies have resulted in a marked and sudden increase in national awareness of water scarcity, and the value of water in the country’s economic development.
However, implementation is not without problems, some of which include:
- Competition between farmers that are part of the same irrigated area has caused social tensions which have hampered effective water management.
- Many farmers have indicated that they are aware of the problems created by excessive water use but they also admitted that they intentionally irrigate more than necessary once water is available due to uncertainty as to when the next irrigation might be (Dadaser-Celik et al., 2008; an observation also made by Ghazouani et al., 2009, in Tunisia).
Many states where water scarcity is highly prevalent, notably across the Middle East/North African (MENA) states, have implemented Water User Associations as an effective system to manage water irrigation. The successful experiences of other states have encouraged other nations within the region to adopt similar public policy reform, recognising the benefits of employing similar strategies to combat comparable problems of over-exploitation, inefficiencies of natural resource management and a lack of direct involvement of professional public experts.
Tunisia’s experiences of water strategies are unique due to their long-term and integrated approaches to public water policy, yet there are a number of states that have also engaged in similar large scale Water Users Associations operations such as Egypt and Turkey:
In Egypt there are approximately 2500 Water Users Associations (IRDC 2010), which were implemented to maintain equitable and fair water distribution, to help settle disputes and to provide the Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI) with suggestions for improving water management and efficiency problems. Water Users Associations have worked closely with the MWRI to resolve conflicts, and increase equity of water distribution, perform small-scale maintenance and align the needs of water with the delivery systems of the state.
In Turkey up until the 1980’s, control of agricultural irrigation water systems was highly centralised, imposing considerable institutional and financial strains on the Turkish government. Due to the results observed amongst other nations in the region the decision was taken to transfer control of irrigation management to Water Users Associations.
While the transfer took until the mid 1990’s to fully implement, irrigation management is now deemed ‘a farmer program with government assistance’ under a decentralised system. Results have seen a reduction in the operational costs of 50%, and the negative environmental impacts have gradually decreased.
Global Water Partnership, Tunisia: Reform of Irrigation Policy and Water Conservation Case #19.