(TAP) - The construction works of the Gargour seawater desalination plant (South Sfax) were kicked off by Prime Minister Najla Bouden on Friday, after a delay that lasted for several years due to corruption suspicions related to this project.

Although Former Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries Oussema Kheriji announced the launch of this project on July 29, 2020, construction works did not take place. They were limited only to the installation of pipes and electrification. Then, in July 2020, the Metito, Orascom and Cobra consortium won the call for tenders launched by SONEDE to build seawater desalination plant.

The total amount of the project is 800 million dinars. It was funded by a loan from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), to be reimbursed over 25 years with a contribution of 130 million dinars mobilized under the state budget.

The Prime Minister stressed that "the project will provide good quality drinking water, improve the living conditions of 900,000 inhabitants as well as boost the economic dynamics in the region".

She expressed concern over the delay it took to launch the project (5 years since the signing of the agreement with JICA). She called for speeding up the implementation phase which should not last more than two years.

Bouden underlined that the implementation of this project shows Tunisia's commitment to continue its cooperation with its Japanese partners. "Tunisia is among the first African countries to sign cooperation agreements with Japan in the field of high-tech infrastructure," she pointed out.

«Tunisia is opting for water desalination as part of its vision of sustainable and integrated development. We are also seeking to rationalise the use of natural resources amid the challenges of climate change and water scarcity,» she added.

"Despite the strategy to mobilise water resources put in place by Tunisia, the water situation is still fragile, particularly in the country's central and southern regions where water scarcity is common and known for its poor quality and high salinity," the Premier explained.

Tunisia will host the 8th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 8) next August 27 and 28.

The event is an opportunity to boost Tunisian-Japanese cooperation as well as build a renewed, lasting and strong partnership between the African continent and Japan, Bouden indicated.

The minister is expected to address the issue of the suspended agreement between Tunisia and Japan at the regular preparatory meeting for the Tokyo summit in the country on April 1.

The opening ceremony was attended by Japanese ambassador in Tunis Shimizu Shinsuke who expressed hope to sign the Tunisian-Japanese bilateral investment cooperation agreement, during TICAD 8 , recalling that this agreement has been subject to the adoption of the Tunisian government for years.

«The signing of this agreement will convey a positive message to Japanese investors, most of them will attend TICAD8,» he noted.

The Japanese diplomat also reiterated the importance of this desalination project which provides one of the best solutions to combat water stress in Tunisia.

"Japan is willing to continue cooperation with Tunisia in the fields of agriculture, water resources mobilisation and funding water projects, particularly in Sidi Salem dam development project, which aims to increase water storage capacity by making use of Japanese technology," he said.

The seawater desalination project in Gargour will help address the problem of water shortage in the governorate of Sfax and ensure regular water supply to one million inhabitants by 2035.

The desalination plant has a capacity of 100,000 m3 per day in a first phase, and 200,000 m3 per day in a second phase.



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