Growing Life in Arid Lands: A Story of Water and Irrigation in Tunisia

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Dana Tomlin
Essay Abstract: 
Tunisia is a small country in North Africa that faces severe water scarcity, with annual average rainfall lying around 250 mm. Agriculture is the largest consumer of water, taking up over 80% of total water resources. The development of water and irrigation in Tunisia has been a complex journey, weaving through a corpus of economic objectives, political abilities, and natural realities. My analysis of Tunisia’s water mobilization and irrigation program consists of two components. First, I conduct a macro-analysis of the country’s national policies, as the development of Tunisia’s water cannot be separated from the development of its political and economic state. Second, I use satellite remote sensing and GIS analyses to examine the practical impacts of such policies, taking the governorate of Kairouan as a case study. By tracing first the historical development of Kairouan’s irrigated lands and then the capacity for irrigation, I illustrate the dramatic expansion of irrigated production, filling Kairouan’s biophysical potential. Overall, Tunisia’s water management policies have been important to and dependent on the country’s economic aims, and while the country’s pure mobilization goals have been successful, such success also brings risks of overexploitation and environmental degradation that threaten to undermine Tunisia’s goals of productivity