Residents of Tunisian village protest huge poisonous landfill

AGUEREB, Tunisia — Aguereb, a small village in Tunisia’s central countryside, was as soon as identified for its contemporary air, thriving ecosystem and exquisite pure environment, home to uncommon species of flora and wild gazelle.

Now, it’s the web site of the area’s largest landfill, amassing hundreds of thousands of tons of waste since 2008 that has made life all however insufferable for residents. 

For these living near the dump web site, the putrid odor of garbage, together with hazardous industrial waste, might be overpowering, a continuing reminder of the rising rot of their yard.  

“There is always a bad smell,” activist Slim Ben Abdallah instructed Al-Monitor from a restaurant within the metropolis heart, simply three kilometers (roughly 2 miles) from the garbage dump.

“Before, we could breath fresh air and our agriculture flourished. Now, the environment has deteriorated, the quality of our produce has deteriorated and our health is suffering. Many people want to leave because of the pollution,” mentioned Ben Abdallah, who heads an area environmental group known as Magnolia. 

Ironically, Aguereb’s landfill is situated inside a sprawling, 4,700-hectare (18-square-mile) nature reserve designed to guard animal and plant species. Some of that space is now left with polluted rivers, rotten soil and harmful pests, akin to noxious bugs and wild hogs.

“Aguereb used to be a paradise, but now it is a paradise for pigs,” resident Zobeir Lachheb instructed Al-Monitor. 

Fed-up residents have lengthy been campaigning to shut the positioning, which was initially deliberate to final simply 5 years. They say it’s getting used to illegally dump industrial and medical waste, reasonably than simply family refuse, resulting in an increase in well being issues akin to respiratory ailments. 

In late September, their activism lastly appeared to have paid off, because the Ministry of Environment ordered the landfill closed. However, no clear plan was put in place to reroute the area’s waste, leading to mounds of trash piling up for weeks within the streets of Sfax, an industrial hub 20 kilometers (12 miles) away.

To resolve the disaster, authorities resorted to reopening Aguereb’s landfill, setting off heated road protests there, with some residents even erecting makeshift roadblocks to stop trash vehicles from shifting by. 

“We felt neglected, disrespected,” mentioned Lachheb. “They didn’t even tell us personally that they would reopen [the landfill]. We found the announcement on Facebook.” 

Demonstrators have been met with swift backlash from safety forces, who fired tear gasoline to disperse the crowds. One 35-year outdated man who inhaled the gasoline suffered from asphyxiation and later died at an area hospital, in keeping with witnesses and a well being employee. This incident ignited one other wave of unrest, with younger males torching the native police station and the nation’s basic labor union calling for a day-long strike within the city.

The Interior Ministry denied duty, saying the person’s demise had “nothing to do” with the demonstrations.

Now, authorities say they’re searching for alternate options to the landfill in Aguereb, however there may be nonetheless no highway map. Tunisia’s Ministry of Environment didn’t reply to emailed questions on the standing of Aguereb’s landfill or different options being mentioned by the point of publication. 

On Sept. 11, President Kais Saied met with main activists from Aguereb and promised to resolve the difficulty “as soon as possible.”  

But the city’s residents, bored with empty phrases and backpedalling from the federal government, discover such guarantees troublesome to imagine. 

“I can’t trust that the government will follow through on their promises,” mentioned Ben Abdallah. “Where will they put the garbage? There is no other place. They haven’t tried to find any solutions other than landfills.”

“Aguereb is far away, so they don’t care,” added Lachheb, who is a relative of the deceased protester. “We are unseen.”

The crisis in Aguereb betrays a deeper problem in Tunisia’s waste management sector, exacerbated by endemic corruption and a lack of investment in sustainable solutions. Each year, the country produces an estimated 2.5 million tons of waste, most of which ends up in open-air landfills without being recycled or treated. 

Semia Gharbi, environmental skilled with conservation nongovernmental group Reseau Tunisie Verte and president of the Association of Environmental Education for Future Generations, instructed Al-Monitor that such air pollution can do exponential hurt.

“Any toxic point can reach the entire ecosystem — the air, the soil, the water,” Gharbi said. Toxic substances also create new toxicities when they interact with other substances, creating “exponential toxicity.”

“This is a real danger to impacted communities. … Research shows that these types of substances can have [severe impacts] on human health and biodiversity,” she said. 

While there are strict laws on poisonous waste administration in Tunisia, poor regulatory mechanisms and entrenched networks of corruption make them simpler to bypass

In Aguereb, some private waste management companies are known to illegally dump toxic material, including medical refuse and industrial waste from factories, in the landfill to avoid expensive treatment processes, paying gatekeepers to look the other way. 

More highly effective officers have additionally been caught up in scandals. In December 2020, Tunisia’s former setting minister was dismissed and arrested, together with different high-level officers, over the tried cargo of 282 containers of family and hospital waste, disguised as post-industrial plastic waste, from Italy to Tunisia. 

“Dirty scandals haunt Tunisia’s solid waste management sector,” Lana Salman, researcher in city governance and worldwide growth, wrote in a analysis paper revealed in April. “[It] is a highly lucrative sector where opacity and corruption are not only endemic but also institutionalized.”

Ultimately, it is everyday people in polluted towns like Aguereb who pay the price. Not only are they fighting for clean, safe environments, but they are looking for respect from central authorities that have long cast them aside. 

“For us, the war over the landfill is over. Now we have a war of dignity,” Aguereb resident and activist Hossein Ben Abdullah told Al-Monitor. 

Ben Abdullah mentioned, “I want an official solution for the landfills. … It has damaged our health and the beauty of the land. The government should take all the responsibility, not the people. We are not guilty.”

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