Religious leaders in Tunisia are calling on people to pray for rain as a severe drought prompts street protests and fears of a “thirst uprising”.
Protesters are demanding action from the government following one of the driest summers on record during a year in which the country’s precious rainfall is down by some 30%, causing agricultural losses of nearly two billion dinars (£685m).
Water scarcity has long been a problem for Tunisia but the challenge has been exacerbated by demand from agriculture and industry that has been increasing by an average of 4% per year borne of growing urbanisation and consumption.
Tunisia has some 30 dams and reservoirs that provide irrigation of agricultural land and drinking water, but by the end of August their reserves were less than 40% of what they were a year ago.
The Nabhana reservoir in central Tunisia is completely dry and at the Sidi Salem Dam near Beja, reserves are about half of what they were last year.
“You have to go back to 1993-1994 to find such a level,” said the dam’s manager, Cherif Gasmi.
Hmaydeya, a small settlement within the country’s Sousse Governorate, has not had access to local running water for four months, according to news website Tunisia Live.
Earlier in the month, protesters gathered at a pumping station in the northwestern town of Fernana and threatened to disrupt supplies to the capital Tunis.
The ministry of religious affairs has called on the people to “pray for rain” but activists have taken to the streets again in affected areas to declare their frustration at what they perceive to be a lack of action to tackle the problem from Tunisia’s government.
Since mid-May authorities have announced more than 700 water supply cuts which officially last from several hours to three days, but Alaa Marzouki of the Tunisian citizens’ water observatory, Watchwater, said that in some regions the cuts have lasted nearly a month.
Watchwater warned last month the country could face a “thirst uprising” reminiscent of the protest movement that spread across Tunisia nearly six years ago, unless “urgent and serious solutions” are found.
In the southwestern Gafsa region, local farmer Mabrouk said frustration was growing.
“We are suffering,” said Mabrouk, who declined to give his last name.
“We had to buy a water tank for 30 dinars for what we use and what our animals use. We’ve sent requests to the government but they remain unanswered. All we can do is wait for rain, God willing.”
Courtesy of Sky News