News.Feb 07, 2023

SIWI supports a systemic approach to achieve climate resilient WASH services in Tunisia

SIWI assisted the government of Tunisia and the UNICEF Country Office with a climate-informed WASH BAT workshop in November 2022. The workshop was the first opportunity for experts from the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Education to meet and exchange on the future of a WASH sector, which is already notably impacted by climate disruptions.

Hélène Le Deunff
Programme Manager,
Water and Sanitation

Tunisia is a lower-middle income country that has reached respectable levels of GDP per capita and has good social welfare, partly evidenced by reasonably good coverage of basic water supply and sanitation access in urban and rural zones (JMP, 2021). The country has a high level of capacity in the water sector and a structured WASH governance system is in place.

Yet, behind the positive figures, worrying trends weaken the resilience of the sector. Inequalities persist between urban and rural populations, and across regions of the country in regard to service availability, water quality, and access. Domestic demand is increasing as the Tunisian population is projected to reach 12,7 million people by 2030, up from 11,2 million in 2019. Competing demands for vulnerable and scarce resources are set to become a major concern, as already now in some regions, water consumption for agriculture is putting the supply of drinking water at risk.

The need for a climate risk informed governance of WASH services

Climate change is one of the key constraints to the future resilience of access to safe water and sanitation in Tunisia. The country is the seventeenth most water stressed country in the world (FAO, 2022) and projections towards 2040 suggest this stress will only increase in a ‘business as usual scenario’, especially as climate stressors and shocks are already impacting WASH services. The analysis of the climate risks to the sector, conducted by SIWI in 2022, showed that five types of climate-related hazards are particularly significant: water scarcity; overexploitation of water sources; floodings; droughts and desertification; and heat waves. The same SIWI review pointed out that the exposure and vulnerability of the WASH sector to these hazards is high, particularly for rural communities and freshwater ecosystems.

To deliver resilient services and achieve SDG 6, Tunisian WASH decision-makers will need to complement their efforts with specific actions in planning, budgeting, and implementing climate risk reduction, preparedness, and crisis management.

Aware of the looming and on-going climate risks to WASH services, the government of Tunisia requested UNICEF to help them devise feasible actions to mitigate risks and build WASH sector resilience. SIWI was appointed to assist in this crucial process, using WASH BAT as a tool to promote collaboration, inclusion, and accountability.

WASH BAT presents a clear framework to create Action Plans articulating who has responsibility to act upon what, with what resources, by when, and how those actions are to be monitored. A climate-risk informed WASH BAT contributes to the wider goals of building and sustaining resilience in the WASH sector. It complements the standard WASH BAT analysis with a systematic assessment of climatic threats to WASH objectives, using the same decision criteria and participatory methodology.

Climate Risk Informed WASH BAT: overcoming fragmentation through a system-wide approach

The results of the workshop revealed that, as in many countries, the governance of water, sanitation and hygiene in Tunisia is overly fragmented. Decisions and action are distributed over a wide array of actors and organisations spanning different ministries and administrative levels, with responsibilities for drinking water and sanitation residing between two different ministries. The differences of interests and priorities cut across institutions since the Ministry of Agriculture manages water for both agricultural and domestic supply. The diversity of players and responsibilities challenge coordination between institutions in charge of water for different uses. The conclusions of the WASH BAT highlighted the challenges created by this institutional fragmentation in all three sub-sectors for which the analysis was conducted: water supply in rural areas, sanitation in rural areas, and WASH in schools and in health care facilities.

Attendees of the Tunisian WASH BAT workshop sitting round a table and flipchart, with coloured post-it notes
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The in-depth examination of interactions, roles, and responsibilities provided by the WASH BAT offers a system-wide perspective of the WASH sector that proved particularly useful in Tunisia. The process requires that the key actors who influence, or are influenced by, WASH service provision come together to analyse the bottlenecks that constrain progress in the achievement of SDG6 and collectively design solutions. To ensure a truly consultative approach in Tunisia, a series of three regional workshop took place in the weeks prior to the national WASH BAT, which were instrumental for gaining specific knowledge and insights from the regions.

Another important aspect of the systemic approach is to ensure that representatives from ministries, who do not typically contribute to WASH decisions, are invited to the workshop. The WASH BAT meeting in Tunisia was reportedly the first opportunity for representatives from the WASH sector to engage with colleagues from the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Education on issues linked to climate risks that deny children and their communities their rights to safe water and sanitation.

The system-wide approach of the WASH BAT also meant that synergies could be actively pursued across sub-sectors to improve the responsiveness of service providers, increase the clarity and robustness of strategies and policies, and improve the enforcement of existing laws and regulations.

Importantly, the Tunisian Action Plan, which came out of the workshop, mobilises several governance functions to create and sustain the climate resilience of communities, infrastructure, services, and ecosystems, particularly for the sanitation sub-sector. Actions identified to address bottlenecks and promote climate resilience included: boosting the financing of climate-related interventions, increasing capacities in this field, and deploying robust policies to strengthen the resilience of services.

Through the application of the Climate Risk Informed WASH BAT, a broad vision was created for a resilient future of the water and sanitation sector in Tunisia. The Action Plan it produced provides a first roadmap, which will be reviewed and validated by decision-makers before it can be put to action.

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United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF)