Tunis/Tunisia — "While the State is struggling to guarantee the right to drinking water of sufficient quality and quantity, the mineral water sector is enjoying notable prosperity," says the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights (FTDES).
In a report entitled: "An improvised policy to stop the over-exploitation of water: Licences are granted to bottled water companies and refused to farmers," the forum points out that sales of bottled water have grown considerably, rising from 879 million litres in 2010 to 3,275 million litres in 2022.
This equates to the sale of 676 million bottles a year, placing Tunisia 4th in the world in terms of mineral water consumption and 10th in the Arab world, according to the World Pollution Review website, as cited in the report.
At the same time, 20% of Tunisian citizens are threatened by water pollution, according to the same source.
The first bottled mineral water production unit was set up in 1963 in Nabeul. Today, the number of these units stands at 30, spread across 13 of the country's governorates, including 6 in Kairouan, 5 in Zaghouan, 4 in Siliana and 3 in Sidi Bouzid.
The forum considers that " alongside the fast growth in the number of water bottling companies, (public) services in this field have worsened considerably, particularly as regards the quality of the drinking water distributed by SONEDE."
Samples taken revealed that the water does not comply with standards, notably in terms of bacteriological composition, rising from 9.9% in 2019 to 10.1% in 2020.
The poor quality of water in Tunisia and the fear of contamination have led Tunisians to resort to bottled water, to the extent that the average consumption of bottled water per person has reached 227 litres per year.
The FTDES also asserts that the State advocates saving water, but at the same time collaborates in wasting these water resources by granting authorisations to investors in the water sector.
"This contradiction jeopardises the right of all citizens to water, as stipulated in the Tunisian constitution," the forum indicated.
The FTDES further considers that "the State's disengagement, particularly with regard to improving the quality of drinking water supplied by SONEDE, and the granting of authorisations to investors in the bottled water sector, have exacerbated the water injustice crisis in Tunisia" and adversely affected household budgets.