A groundbreaking IWRM plan towards the achievement of SDG 6.5.1 in Tunisia via transformative and more inclusive water resources management

An IWRM Plan striving to lay the foundations for a transformative approach to water management has been validated by Tunisia after a national dialogue led by the Water Resources Department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Hydraulic Resources and Fishery and facilitated by GWP-Med

Tunisia has adopted the IWRM approach for decades, but progress in its implementation remains insufficient, as revealed by the 2020 report for SDG 6.5.1. Indeed, Tunisia achieved a score of 60% for SDG 6.5.1 in 2020, showing a slight improvement on the 55% estimated in 2017. The scoring in the regular reports reveals that Tunisia will have to intensify its efforts to achieve a full and beneficial implementation of IWRM by 2030.

To this end, the Ministry of Agriculture, Hydraulic Resources and Fishery collaborated with the SDG 6 IWRM Support Programme for the development of an IWRM Plan. The Support Programme had assisted Tunisia back in 2020 to organise the consultation process for the SDG 6.5.1 reporting. Building on this process, a national dialogue was conducted under the leadership of the Water Resources Department and the facilitation of GWP-Med from June 2022 to March 2023.

The national dialogue comprised four consultation workshops in addition to the two meetings of the Task Force that was set-up to provide guidance to the dialogue. The Task Force was composed by the Water Resources Department (DGRE), the Bureau of Planning and Hydraulic Balance (BPEH), the Rural Engineering Department (DGGREE), the Dams Department (DGBGTH), the drinking water utility (SONEDE) and the national agency for environment protection (ANPE). The consultation workshops brought together 85 representatives of the various ministerial departments and structures involved in water resource management both at central and regional level within the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Equipment and Land Planning, as well as the National Centre of Mapping and Remote Sensing, the National Institute of Meteorology, the National Institute of Statistics, professional and civil society organisations, researchers and academics, and independent experts.

The first three consultation workshops were organised to reach a consensus on the most pressing governance challenges, to identify and prioritise the required actions, to specify the respective roles of the institutions and to draft the IWRM Plan. The final workshop, that led to the validation of the plan, was organised under the patronage of the Minister of Agriculture ensuring high political visibility.

The IWRM Plan includes 13 actions for a total cost of around 10 million euros over a five-year period (2023-2028). New social dimensions that have long been overlooked by water managers in Tunisia are tackled by the Plan. Indeed, technical solutions and engineering investments were privileged over the previous decades. The post-revolutionary socio-economic context has highlighted the consequences of the technical-focused approach for water management, notably the users’ dissatisfaction with the service, the absence or inefficiency of information-sharing and communication channels, the low trust between citizen and governmental bodies, and the acts of vandalism on hydraulic networks and the spread of illegal drilling causing considerable damage to water resources and infrastructure.

The IWRM Plan is tackling the root causes of these problems and is striving to lay the foundations for a transformative approach to water management in Tunisia that is more inclusive and regularly updated based on scientific, comprehensive, and multi-dimensional assessments of water policies and strategies. Actions include for example the development of a monitoring & evaluation system with gender-specific indicators for water policy, the analysis of social dynamics around water use, the mapping of vulnerable groups and their mainstreaming in water policy, the organisation of a regular inclusive national dialogue and the establishment of efficient mechanisms for information sharing, etc.

The implementation of the ambitious, but realistic, IWRM Plan requires both continuous political support and funds’ mobilisation. Stakeholders recommended three follow-up actions:

-        include the IWRM Plan in the annual sectoral review that brings together the national stakeholders with the technical and financial partners to discuss development harmonisation. In this manner, it is possible to identify opportunities for the incorporation of the Plan’s activities into ongoing or planned initiatives and projects,

-        organise a dedicated Roundtable with technical and financial partners to explore opportunities for the IWRM funding,

-         request the SDG IWRM Support Programme to continue supporting Tunisia for activities’ implementation or funds mobilisation such as the preparation of project concept note for the operationalisation of the proactive drought management