Residents and activists in the Tunisian industrial center of Sfax warn of an “environmental catastrophe” as mountains of uncollected waste litter the streets of the Mediterranean port city.
“The situation is catastrophic,” Mohamed Boujalabane, a resident of Sfax, Tunisia’s second largest city with more than a million inhabitants, told AFP.
“We can no longer have a normal life, there is garbage everywhere and we fear for the health of our children and our families,” he said, a mask covering his face.
For 40 days, garbage has piled up in the streets, attracting clouds of flies, even around hospitals and schools.
And the stench is unbearable.
“We complained to the municipality but so far they haven’t done anything!” Rabeh Abid, a butcher, said angrily.
Hamdi Chebaane, waste management expert and environmental activist with Tunisie Verte, said the waste problems began after authorities closed the province’s main landfill in Aguereb at the end of September.
Since then, he said, “the municipality has refused to pick up the trash unless the government” finds a solution.
As a result, the region faces “an environmental catastrophe,” Chebaane warned.
– ‘Toxic waste’ –
Local media said the landfill was closed following protests from residents who accused “toxic waste” of also being dumped at the site, where only household garbage is allowed.
Environment Minister Leila Chikhaoui visited Sfax in October to discuss the crisis with city officials.
She proposed that toxic waste be moved to a temporary landfill away from urban and residential areas of Sfax.
But local residents rejected such a temporary solution.
Tunisia, which has a population of 12 million, has repeatedly faced waste management problems.
About 2.5 million tonnes of waste is collected each year, according to international experts, and the majority is thrown into landfills without being treated, recycled or incinerated.
According to a recent World Bank report, only 61% of waste in the capital Tunis is collected and most ends up in open dumps.
Since the Tunisian revolution of 2011, the authorities have tried to crack down on illegal dumping, but they have limited means to enforce the rules.
Divisions between cabinet ministries have also sparked feuds between the government and local officials, particularly over who should collect toxic waste in places such as hospitals.
In 2020, the North African nation was hit by a scandal involving hundreds of containers of waste shipped from Italy.
They were said to carry plastic for industrial recycling – but were instead filled with mixed and putrid household waste, the import of which is prohibited under Tunisian law.
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