The Tunisian island of Djerba, famous to international tourists for its sandy beaches, beautiful landscapes and religious diversity, is today suffering from a serious environmental problem.
The environmental concerns on Djerba have been an ongoing issue since residents had forced the closure of the landfill site at Gallala in 2012. Currently, the Ministry of the Environment is using ‘bailing’ instead of land-filling, which means putting garbage in plastic cubes above the ground instead of underground. While bailing partly relieved the environmental pressures on the island, recycling and the correct separation of waste remained a concern, with poor waste management exposing people to the risk of skin disease and respiratory problems, as well as encouraging the spread of rats and mosquitoes.
In 2014, many hotel owners and managers in Djerba refused to pay their taxes because they thought the authorities were not doing enough to keep the island clean.
The inhabitants of the island, as well as foreign investors and tourism professionals, have been multiplying their protests against what they consider to be the Tunisian government’s nonchalance towards the problem of garbage disposal in the island. On 11 July 2014, locals clashed with the police when some individuals tried to block trucks carrying large amounts of trash from entering the Gallala landfill. The landfill is believed to be extremely underequipped and very dangerous for the environment.
Many tourists have also published comments and photos urging “Tunisians” to do something about it. In September 2014, a French lady has sent a letter to Tunisia’s PM. (http://www.gnet.tn/sur-le-vif/pollution-a-djerba-lettre-ouverte-au-president-et-aux-ministres-de-tunisie/id-menu-1006.html).
On 30 July 2014, an Italian restaurant-owner chained herself to a traffic sign to protest the burning of trash in front of her property in Djerba. Pictures of locals surrounding her went viral on several social media outlets. The Italian lady’s act of indignation was her way of publicly shaming the Tunisian administration and exposing its failure to keep Djerba clean.
Last August, Andreas Reinicke the German Ambassador to Tunisia told a radio station how German tourists were put off visiting the country by poor levels of service and a perceived lack of cleanliness. Reinicke slammed “the lack of public bins throughout the island and the large amounts of refuse that collected upon the streets as a result…People want to have good services”. He warned: “German tourists have said that if the garbage is still piled up in Djerba, they will not return.”
This environmental crisis is to be added to 2 catastrophic years in Djerba’s tourism. Like most of the tourist resorts in Tunisia, the industry was hit by terrorist attacks and the ongoing tension in neighboring Libya. Last summer’s season was simply disastrous in Djerba.
Djerba is the largest island of North Africa, located in the Gulf of Gabes, off the south-eastern coast of Tunisia. It is known for Mediterranean beaches and whitewashed desert towns influenced by Berber, Arab, Jewish and African cultures. Houmt Souk is the main city, known for its handicraft markets, fishing port and 16th-century fortress, Borj el Kebir. To the south is El Ghriba synagogue, a pilgrimage site for North African Jews. It has about 120 hotels and hosts Tunisia’s second biggest airport.