Tuesday Apr 07

Water Pollution, Lung Cancers and Corruption: Journey into the Tunis Mega Dump: SPECIAL REPORT Organizers’ Forum International Dialogue – Tunisia

Organizers Forum participants visited the inhabitants Al’Attar, a Tunis neighborhood located by the biggest dump of North Africa. Inhabitants have recently joined El Comita, ACORN affiliate in Tunisia to fight against pollution.

Borj Cash mega-dump is located 8 km from Tunis. A population of 50,000 people lives between Borj Cash, Jayara Sidi Hampton and Al’Attar and suffer the disastrous consequences of the dump’s discharges to their environment, the quality of their lives, their health and their daily lives.

The Borj Chakir dump was created in 1999. With over 120 hectares, it is the biggest dump in the region. At a steady pace, trucks arrive every day to haul 2500 to 3000 tons of various waste. On their way, clouds of dust accumulate. Garbage scatters everywhere, escaping from trucks and spreading on access roads and in urban areas. No measure of the waste is taken into account. In addition, the wall separating the community from the the dump has been destroyed, which promoting the free movement of stray dogs around the dump. When we arrived, we were disgusted by nauseating odors that irritate the throat, tickle the larynx, and cause coughing.

We asked our local guide what the dark liquid running from the dump along the road then to the small river was? Leachate is the toxic residual liquid resulting from the degradation of organic waste and its percolation with water. Inside the Borj Chakir landfill, there are leachate ponds with a total capacity of 400,000 cubic meters. Usually, leachates have to be treated, eliminated and strictly controlled because of their damaging effects on the environment. However, in Borj Chakir the leachate retention ponds are in the open air. During the winter, these basins overflow on the neighboring land, formerly agricultural, and plunge the whole village into the mixed streams of leachate. This contamination is deposited on a radius of three kilometers around the landfill.

A stench hovers over the village. This smell betrays the existence of chemicals, including hydrogen sulfide, products that have polluted the water supply, the soil, the air and their impacting the health of the inhabitants. “When the wind blows in this direction, my son Mohammed begins to cough,” Taha told us while we were sitting in the coffee shop, telling how his sixteen-year-old son has always suffered from chronic fatigue and a heart problem that requires surgical intervention. His son’s medical report indicates that there is a strong link between his asthma and his various other health problems and the toxicity of the discharge.

Borj Chakir is proof of the toxic catastrophe in Tunisia: more than half of all equipment specialized in waste was destroyed during the 2011 revolution, the lack of funding, and the decision to centralize waste management to minimize the cost has further aggravated the crisis. In addition, the authorities have put plans in place to extend the Borj Chakir landfill, bringing it within twenty-five meters of some houses in the locality. The quantity of waste dumped is much higher than the forty-four tons allowed per day in European landfills.

Mohammed’s case is not isolated. “One of the residents was diagnosed with lung cancer after working in the landfill for almost a decade.” Kamel Marouani, a resident of Al’Attar and a worker in the landfill, was a victim of the poisonous odors of leachates. The worker was diagnosed with lung cancer. Lacking financial means, he could not follow the instructions of the doctors. He had to go back to work. Shortly after, he could not hold on and died.  The children we met have asthma, heart and respiratory problems, infectious diseases, itching and skin irritations. These pathologies are generalized; the majority of the inhabitants of the region are affected.

The World bank has granted a loan of $22 million for the expansion of the landfill. The Ministry of the Environment has stated that it “recognizes capacity issues related to the Borj Chakir landfill and is looking for a new site,” but will only do so after the World Bank-funded expansion.

In the past, European companies managed the Borj Chakir site, like the French company Pizzorno, which left after the expiration of its contract in 2011. Later, it was criticized by the National Commission of Investigations into corruption and embezzlement, a body responsible for examining suspicious cases related to Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The panel visible outside the Borj Chakir landfill indicates that it is now managed by an Italian-Tunisian company named Ecoti, which refused to answer or comment on the current situation of the landfill.

The inhabitants of Al’Attar have protested on several occasions against their lamentable situation. In 2014 claims and demonstrations had pushed the Minister of the Environment to intervene and to promise strict measures to protect the environment and the inhabitant health. But a year later the expansion enabled by the World Bank loan have started and protections measures have been delayed since.

Waste disposal in Tunisia has had a tumultuous past. Protesters damaged the local municipality’s dumps during the 2011 revolution, demonstrating their anger at the lack of any proper waste management policy. El Comita members (ACORN’s affiliate in Tunisia) has made waste management the top priority of their first campaign. In other neighborhoods of Tunis, they already won some significant improvements. Some of El Attar inhabitants have recently joined the community organization hoping to get same progress here. But the battle will be long.

Adrien Roux is the Coordinateur of Alliance Citoyenne based in Grenoble, France.



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