Can the Nexus approach become a protective shield for the precious Ghar El Melh lagoon in Tunisia?

GWP-Med, the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade of Malta and the GEF UNEP/MAP MedProgramme have joined forces to protect the Ghar El Melh lagoon, one of Tunisia's most precious wetlands, improve climate resilience, advance sustainable development and ensure human well-being.

In the coastal governorate of Bizerte, in the North of Tunisia, natural resources have been under stress. The region is home to one of the country’s most precious wetlands, the Ghar El Melh lagoon, designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. Excessive use of water for irrigation purposes and expansion of agricultural lands, have led however to loss of natural habitats, threatening the ecosystem, its associated biodiversity and ecosystem services, essential for the livelihood of the local community.

The Ghar El Melh lagoon was designated as a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar Site) under the Ramsar Convention on 7 November 2007.  Main economic activities practiced in the area include tourism, fishing and agriculture. 

Responding to this challenge, the project Adapting to Climate Change Impacts through Smart Irrigation in Ghar El Melh wetland area (ACCISI-GEM), implemented by the Global Water Partnership-Mediterranean with financial support from the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs and Trade of Malta and co-financing from the GEF UNEP/MAP MedProgramme, will apply the WEFE Nexus approach through targeted activities in the area. The aim is to enhance water, energy, and food security, preserve the region’s valuable ecosystems and their functions, advance the community’s resilience to climate change and, contribute to the government’s efforts towards sustainable development.    

Ghar El Melh: an important Ramsar site in need of protection

In 2007, the lagoon of Ghar El Melh was designated as a Wetland of International Importance and eleven years later the city of Ghar El Melh joined the list of Ramsar designated sites. The city is a touristic hotspot and major economic activities include lagoon/coastal fishing and agriculture. However, the Ghar El Melh coast is facing a range of developmental pressures particularly due to climate vulnerability and change impacts and the ecological health of the lagoon and related fishing activities are threatened due changes in the lagoon’s hydrodynamics, water balance and water quality deterioration. The already impaired condition of the region was exacerbated in 2023 when the country experienced one of the worst droughts in its history, thus forcing authorities to implement strict measures including long-hours cut of domestic water supply with significant impact on its agricultural production.

For the past three years Tunisia has been facing severe drought, threatening its agricultural harvest. 

Applying innovative technologies to support the local community and protect the vulnerable ecosystem.

The project is based on a holistic, multi-dimensional, innovative, community-based, gender-sensitive, and partnership-focused approach to coastal conservation agriculture using a WEFE Nexus lens. It builds upon the findings of the GEMWET project, implemented by GWP-Med and a number of partners in the Ghar El Melh region, with remarkable results for the farming community and the agricultural production. Under the current project,  5 farms will be selected to benefit from an ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) system that will allow farmers to receive precise, data driven decisions about when and how much water to apply to their crops. Renewable energy will be used for water pumping in order to optimize the use of energy, produce food sustainably making a positive impact in the interface of all 4 Nexus sectors while building resilient communities and ecosystems. At the same time, specially designed equipment will monitor the hydrology of the wetland in order to assess the impact of the irrigation practices on the coastal wetlands.

The adoption of smart-irrigation measures by the local community, will significantly benefit local society’s well-being and the economy and protect the area’s ecological and cultural treasures. At the national level, the project aspires to initiate a policy dialogue that will develop an action plan for upscaling such interventions, while also identifying catalytic and financing options for farmers to use these technologies with the aim to create a self-sustaining mechanism that can facilitate the uptake of the approach throughout the country.

 5 farms will be selected to benefit from an ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) system that will allow farmers to receive precise, data driven decisions about when and how much water to apply to their crops.

By upscaling and replicating the project’s efforts in other parts of Tunisia and beyond, the project will contribute to the country’s efforts towards the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. The implementation of the WEFE Nexus approach through the use of technology signifies a bold step towards climate resilience and sustainable development ensuring human well-being, ecological integrity, gender equality and social justice.