Sfax suffocates under the waste

Sfax (Tunisia)

From our correspondent

Near the hospital, library or school, large piles of garbage, sometimes gutted or burnt, pile up. “It is the worst crisis we have experienced”, deplores Zied Mallouli, engineering professor and environmental activist in Sfax, showing the extent of the damage throughout the city. In the neighborhood where his parents live, trash cans are hung up everywhere. ” I sometimes come to collect them myself.

In Tunisia’s second largest city, foul smells greet visitors. “The waste crisis” is on everyone’s lips. Faced with the anger of the population, the new Minister of the Environment Leila Chikhaoui made the trip Wednesday, October 27. An open session was organized with representatives of civil society at the headquarters of the governorate.

Zied Mallouli, one of those who assisted her during the meeting, said he had ” confidence “ in this minister who knows her domain. But in the room, the atmosphere was tense, the anger palpable. Because Sfax, the economic heart of the country with its 300,000 inhabitants, has been suffocating for a month under the garbage. An unprecedented crisis, symptomatic of the disastrous management of waste: in Tunisia, there is no recycling of household waste, only landfill.

In the streets, too, anger is growing. “We have gnats and insects everywhere, while there are two schools here”, a mother, Samah, gets angry as she picks up her children from school. Imen, 37, denounces discrimination: “If the crisis took place in Tunis, it would not have remained like this. “ She plans to burn her garbage. “Even though it’s toxic, we have no other choice. “

And yet this crisis was predictable. In 2019, the courts declared the closure of the Agareb landfill, 20 km from Sfax, where an average of 400 tonnes of household waste per day had been stored since 2008. Located in the middle of a nature reserve, the landfill was supposed to close in December 2021, but it has already been overloaded since September. The people of Agareb “Are human beings like us, they are right not to want this discharge”, Imen believes.

On Wednesday October 27, the day of the meeting with the minister, about fifteen activists of the Manich Msab (“I am not a dump”) movement, from Agareb, camped in front of the headquarters of the governorate. And have obtained the promise that no more waste will be sent without the agreement of the population of Agareb. “It is the most beautiful moment of our fight”, launches Sami Bahri, initiator of the campaign in 2018. After years of struggle for their right to a healthy environment, they feel listened to.

“This dump killed and sickened our relatives and friends”, explains Maamoun Ajmi, a member of Manich Msab. The campaign gained momentum in 2019 when a young woman died from pollution in the landfill. According to the Forum for Economic and Social Rights, “The discharge spreads respiratory and skin diseases and multiplies the cases of infertility in women”. Their fight for environmental justice could lead to a pioneering experience in the country: the creation by the town hall of Agareb of a sorting and recovery site.

For many, administrative carelessness is the source of the problems. The mayor of Sfax, Mounir Elloumi, concedes: “There was no agreement between the municipalities and the National Waste Management Agency. “ At the beginning of October, he reopened a landfill at the port, a temporary collection point. “But we have to close it in the next few days because there are already more than 10,000 tonnes of waste. “ The councilor dreams of a new era, without landfill, and wants to open a recovery and recycling center in six months. “If we do not achieve this unity in time, he said, an environmental disaster awaits us. “


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