Disasters caused by natural hazards have claimed 1,098 lives (excluding COVID-19), affected almost 300,000 people and destroyed or damaged almost 45,000 homes in Tunisia, since 1980 until last year (2023), said representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries Mohamed Ben Saïd, on Wednesday in Tunis, during a debate on the "Prevention and management of droughts and floods," organised as part of the 5th Mediterranean Water Forum.

Tunisia has experienced years of drought with a sharp increase in the number of hot days and in the average annual temperature of about 1.4%, the official added.

Besides, according to the database on losses due to disasters, finalised by the Ministry of the Environment in 2014, Tunisia had been hit by around 2,500 disasters which caused 1,075 deaths between 1980 and 2013, he added.

He further explained that "losses and damage due to flooding in Nabeul in 2018 were estimated at $106 million, with 2,400 jobs lost."

Between 2005 and 2020, Tunisia also suffered 4,332 forest fires, destroying some 41,000 hectares of forested areas.

According to a World Bank report, rising sea levels could affect almost a quarter of Tunisia's coastal zone by 2050, potentially resulting in a total loss of land worth $1.6 billion.

The likelihood of catastrophic flooding is expected to increase almost tenfold, and the cost of restoring road assets alone after such flooding may reach $277 million by 2050.

Faced with these growing losses and threats, "the Ministry of Agriculture embarked on two major programmes, the first aimed at protecting towns and farmland from flooding, and the second at harnessing excess rainfall during wet periods to cover the needs of the regions most affected by drought," said representative of the dams department at the Ministry of Agriculture Faiez Msallem.

As regards the project to protect towns and farmland against flooding, Msallem explained that the first part of this project covers 80 km from the Algerian border to the Sidi Salem dam, at a cost of $80 million (TND 220 million).

This part is 85% complete. The second part involves the Mdjerda wadi and its tributaries, and will consist of calibrating the flows in this wadi to protect the surrounding towns and land. An initial call for tenders for this project has already been launched," he pointed out.

"A study was launched in 2016 to model the surplus volumes in the northern water systems and decide on the transfer mechanisms to be planned," the official underlined, adding that this study takes into account the different climate change scenarios."

Speaking on the same subject of actions taken to deal with the threat of flooding, officer at the Urban Hydraulics Department of the Ministry of Public Works Wafa Ben Amor said that the investment allocated by her department had risen from TND 15 million in 2011 to TND 195 million in 2023, which clearly reflects the effects of climate change on the country.

The Department of Public Works is currently implementing a strategy to protect towns and urban areas from flooding, giving priority to the areas most at risk.

"A strategic study of flood risk management in Tunisia has already been launched, at a cost of TND 12 million. This study will help map the risks and will be used to adjust future urban development plans in line with the potential risks," she added.

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