A sit-in held yesterday in the city of Bakakria – located in the governorate of Sidi Bouzid – was the latest in a series of demonstrations organized in reaction to water shortages that have plagued Sidi Bouzid over the past six months.
Yesterday marked the fourth day of the sit-in, and tensions flared when police officers intervened to disperse demonstrators. The protesters, who had blocked several streets and allegedly started attacking cars, began throwing stones, and officers responded by firing tear gas canisters and arresting several participants.
“We were surprised that residents cut the road that links Sidi Bouzid with Meknassi. They broke cars, and they even attacked civilians. Therefore, we were obliged to send reinforcements to open the road, but they [the protesters] threw stones at the police. So, the police arrested some of them,” stated Mohamed Nejib Manousouri, the mayor of Sidi Bouzid, on Tunisia’s Shems FM radio station yesterday.
Manousouri added that the unrest has also complicated efforts to alleviate the plight facing Sidi Bouzid’s inhabitants.
“They [the residents of Sidi Bouzid] have been complaining about insufficient electricity…so we decided to build a new transformer. Today [August 5], a contractor went there to start his work, but a group of people seized the contractor’s car, forcing the workers to stop. They also attacked the contractor and a judge, claiming that the new transformer was weak and insufficient, so they blocked the road.”
The justification for Sidi Bouzid’s water shortage is disputed. According to TAP news agency’s report, Manousouri claimed that the local water distribution association cut off the water supply after residents stopped paying their bills.
However, according to a Sidi Bouzid municipality worker who spoke with Tunisia Live today on the condition of anonymity, this explanation lacks credibility. “The people of Sidi Bouzid have enough money [to pay their water bills], so it’s not logical that the water was cut off because they couldn’t pay,” she stated.
Fahim Brahm, a worker at Tunisia’s SONEDE water company, supported these claims. “The cut-off is due to an increase in consumption – especially in light of the hot weather – and is also due to weak electrical production capacity. The water cut-offs have nothing to do with people not paying the water distributor,” he asserted.
Brahm explained that the water supply has been severed every day in the entire governorate of Sidi Bouzid from 9:00 am until 12:00 pm, with suspensions sometimes lasting the entire day. According to Brahm, the water supply has not yet returned today.
The municipality worker corroborated Brahm’s description of conditions, confirming that Sidi Bouzid’s water shortage has persisted for the past six months, with water only occasionally being supplied in the evenings. “We have been suffering a lot from the lack of water throughout the governorate of Sidi Bouzid,” the municipality worker stated.
In hopes of finding a solution to the water crisis, Brahm stated that a team of contractors had been sent to the region and had begun constructing a new well. However, yesterday’s protest impeded their work.
In his statement on Shems FM yesterday, Manousouri assured that, “The water is supposed to be there on Monday, August 6. A delegation from the Ministry of Agriculture sent a contractor to start its implementation.” However, Manousouri did not specify which city or geographic region within Sidi Bouzid this contractor would be sent.
However, Brahm stated that more factors may be motivating the protests in Sidi Bouzid than simply water shortages. “I don’t know exactly why [yesterday’s protest occurred], but I think that they are protesting because they want employment and other things,” he speculated.
Less than two weeks ago, similar demonstrations transpired in Sidi Bouzid when subcontractors from the region protested a two-month delay in the payment of their salaries. The unrest culminated in attacks on government and Ennahdha party offices on July 26.
Commonly referred to as “the birthplace of the Tunisian revolution,” Sidi Bouzid has seen its share of economic and social hardships. Demonstrations organized in protest of the lack of social services are not uncommon within the governorate.