Cap Bon, a cape located in northern Tunisia, is known for its beach resorts and its rich biodiversity. However, one of its villages, Mrigueb, is now experiencing an ecological catastrophe: the waters of the wadi located next to it have turned bright red, due to pollution from fish processing factories.
A “wadi” is the Arabic term for watercourses in North Africa that remain dry except during the rainy season. The wadi next to Mrigueb, called Tafekhsit, was once home to a large variety of fish species as well as several types of migratory birds. Today, this fauna has disappeared.
The villagers of Mrigueb blame the three factories located near the wadi, who process and can sardines and anchovies. Among them are two Italian companies, MEDIMER and SDT; the third, SOGECO, is Tunisian. SOCEGO’s plant manager strongly refutes any allegations of polluting the wadi, and points the finger at the two Italian firms.
According to our Observer, the companies are dumping their waste into the wadi, in total disregard for Tunisia’s environmental laws.
One of the streams that runs off of the wadi. Photo taken by our Observer Hamza Fraj.
"Tourist who swim in the sea near the wadi come out with irritated, red skin"
Hamza Fraj owns a café. He lives in Mrigueb and has repeatedly alerted the authorities about the wadi’s pollution.
About five hundred people live in and around Mrigueb. Many of them make their living from tourism. I’m afraid that one day soon, the local tourism industry will collapse due to the wadi’s pollution, which gives off a horrible smell. When you get close to the wadi, it becomes really intolerable. And as the pollution is getting worse and worse, I’m worried that this smell will spread.However, the biggest problem is that the little rivers that run off the wadi go into the sea. These days, villagers no longer swim in the sea, because they’re afraid they’ll get sick. The only ones who do go for a swim are uninformed tourists, who come out with irritated, red skin. Whenever I see people swimming, I rush to tell them about the dangers they face.When the factories first set up shop here, they ran pipes under some raisin fields; their waste water ended up in a ditch belonging to the field owners. But as the water was contaminated the fields, the owners filled up the ditch. They then turned to the wadi.We’re not asking for the factories to be shut down; they’ve provided our community with about 40 jobs. We just want them to set up a water sanitation centre to treat their waste.I along with some other local residents made formal complaints about this at the local, state, and national level. Every time, we were promised things would change. But of course, nothing was done. So we then decide to fix the problem ourselves. We had an excavator come in and fill in the wadi with sand. But the polluted water kept coming back, so we gave up on this tactic.
Tafekhsit wadi. Video by our Observer Salha Bes.
"The anchovies’ blood is what gives Tafekhsit wadi its bright red colour"
Hichem Bouchouicha runs the SOGECO factory. He lives in Kélibia, a town over from Mrigueb.
The SOGECO factory, when it set up here in 1981, used pipes that the state had already built to dispose of this waste. But at the time, Tunisia wasn’t preoccupied with ecology. A few years later, SOGECO, which is a private company, decided to build a water sanitation centre. Once the water is purified, it goes to a local dump. Thanks to this, my company’s practices are perfectly compliant with today’s environmental laws.Those responsible for the wadi’s pollutions are the managers of the two Italian factories [MEDIMER and SDT]. They have no respect for the environment. They would rather make the wadi filthy than spend money on a sanitation centre. Their specialty is raw anchovies. The anchovies’ blood is what gives Tafekhsit wadi its bright red colour.
The national environmental protection agency told FRANCE 24 that its agents took samples from the wadi on Wednesday and Thursday to determine what exactly what is polluting its water.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Grégoire Remund.