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Key findings
  • Almost nine out of 10 Tunisians (88%) say pollution is a serious problem in their community, including 76% who see it as “very serious.” o Citizens say trash disposal (cited by 38%), pollution of water sources (25%), human waste management (15%), and air pollution (11%) are the most important environmental issues in their community. o Eight in 10 respondents (80%) say plastic bags are a major source of pollution in Tunisia.
  • Tunisians say the primary responsibility for reducing pollution and keeping communities clean rests with local citizens (39%), local government (30%), and the national government (17%).
  • Only 15% of citizens think the government is doing an adequate job of reducing pollution and protecting the environment, and 90% say it needs to do “much more.”
  • But if environmental-protection policies threaten jobs and incomes, citizens are evenly divided as to which should be prioritised.
  • About half (48%) of Tunisians say that the benefits of natural resource extraction outweigh its negative impacts, such as pollution, while 35% disagree.
  • More than eight in 10 (83%) want the government to tighten regulation of the resource-extraction industry to reduce its negative impacts on the environment.
  • ▪ Fewer than four in 10 citizens think that ordinary people have a voice in decisions about natural resource extraction (38%) and that local communities receive a fair share of the sector’s revenues (32%).

Tunisia’s modest resource-extraction industry – mainly phosphates, oil, and natural gas – contributed about 2.2% to the country’s gross national product (GDP) in 2021, less than half  as much as tourism (Trading Economics, 2023; OECD, 2023). 

It has also been a magnet for protests demanding jobs and an end to pollution blamed for  damaging public health, pristine beaches, and industries such as fishing and agriculture (Cordall, 2019; Foroudi, 2021). 

Tunisia was once the world’s fifth-largest exporter of phosphate, which is used to make  fertiliser, but the industry contracted dramatically after the 2011 revolution amid protests and  strikes (Waszkewitz, 2018; Göbel, 2013; Amara, 2022). In 2017, for example, thousands of  people took part in protests against pollution by phosphate-processing plants in the southern  region of Gabès, including the dumping of phosphogypsum into the sea (Africanews, 2017).  In November 2022, protesters demanding employment opportunities brought phosphate  production in Tunisia to a temporary halt with a nationwide strike (Reuters, 2020). But output has been increasing again as Tunisia aspires to regain its position as a major phosphate  producer (Amara, 2022). 

This dispatch, which is based on special survey modules included in the Afrobarometer  Round 9 questionnaire, explores Tunisians’ experiences and perceptions of pollution,  environmental governance, and natural resource extraction. 

Findings show that a vast majority of citizens are deeply concerned about pollution in their  community. They rank trash disposal, pollution of water sources, and sanitation as their most  important pollution problems. Most say the government must do “much more” to protect the  environment, although they are divided as to whether environmental protection should take  priority over jobs and incomes. 

Tunisians offer mixed views of the benefits of natural resource extraction activities and say  tighter regulation of the industry is needed to reduce its negative impacts on the  environment. 

Baba Adou

Baba Adou is a researcher of Political Science at the University of Florida and the UF Sahel Research Group