Tunisia: Climate Change - Adaptation Options for Tunisia, 5th Most Vulnerable Country Worldwide to Growing Risk of Drought

Tunis, April 16 — Tunisia, which has suffered six years of drought over the past decade, is considered to be the 5th most vulnerable country in the world to the growing risk of droughts and water shortages, according to the latest report published in March 2024 by the Tunisian Institute of Competitiveness and Quantitative Studies (ITCEQ).

With a high rate of abstraction of freshwater resources and low dam capacity, the water sector is the 2nd most vulnerable after agriculture, with a high vulnerability score due to the sector's low capacity to adapt to climate change, according to the document entitled "Macroeconomic impacts and challenges of the agricultural sector's adaptation to climate change."

"These sector-specific vulnerability factors could hamper Tunisia's economic and social development," warn the authors of the report, recommending that medium- and long-term economic planning take account of the reality of climate change and the need to step up adaptation measures, which remain urgent and vital "for an economy heavily dependent on agricultural exports and grain imports."

They recommend devising and implementing an integrated adaptation strategy to alleviate the structural constraints on economic development in general and on the development of the agricultural sector in particular.

The effects of climate change have already been perceptible in Tunisia, but they will be more noticeable by 2050, and constitute one of the main development challenges facing the country.

"Rising temperatures, falling rainfall and an increase in the frequency and duration of extreme events are expected to have negative repercussions on crop yields and water and soil resources, in terms of both quantity and quality."

Tunisia should establish policies to adapt to climate change, which is likely to exacerbate the economic situation. These include water adaptation policies such as the construction of desalination plants, the installation of wastewater treatment units, and the maintenance and construction of new dams to solve the problem of water shortages in the medium and long term and reduce the water deficit.

The efficiency of these policies will depend, however, on better management of water resources, while improving water productivity in all economic sectors through optimisation of available resources and better management of household consumption, while preventing all losses and wastage.

"Even with planned increases in water supply, the simultaneous achievement of water security and economic development requires substantial cuts in water elasticity in agricultural, industrial and service production through the adoption of water-efficient production techniques."

"Although decision-makers have recognised the seriousness of the problem and devised long-term adaptation strategies, such as investing in water supply, minimising losses in the distribution process and rehabilitating existing reservoirs, these strategies are costly and require the involvement of the private sector alongside the public sector," say the authors of the report.

Indeed, increasing water supply would require the construction of desalination and wastewater treatment plants, as well as finding the energy resources to power these plants, which in the country's current economic structure requires intensive investment and imports.

"Hence, the financing structure and costs of adaptation policies should play a key role in determining their overall economic impact and their efficiency in stabilising the economy in the long term," states the report.

According to international standards, which set the minimum threshold for a country's water needs at 1000 m3 per capita per year, Tunisia is below the water poverty line, with less than 500 m3 per capita per year.

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