North African climate change threatens farming, political stability

An employee at the Sidi Salem dam looks at the receding water level in the reservoir in the northern Tunisian area of Testour. (AFP)
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Updated 15 November 2021

North African climate change threatens farming, political stability

SIDI SALEM, Tunisia: Tunisian olive farmer Ali Fileli looked out over his parched fields and crushed a lump of dry, dusty earth in his hand.
“I can’t do anything with my land because of the lack of water,” he said.
Fileli is just one of many farmers who have been left high and dry by increasingly long and intense droughts across North Africa.
“When I started farming with my father, there was always rain, or we’d dig a well and there would be water,” said the 54-year-old, who farms around 22 hectares of land near the northern city of Kairouan.
“But these last 10 years there has always been a lack of water. Every year the water table drops three to four meters.”
Fileli showed AFP his sprawling orchard of olive trees. With the olive harvest approaching, some bore small, shriveled fruits, but the rest were dead.
He said that over the past decade, around half of his 1,000 olive trees have died due to drought.
The country’s water crisis is clearly visible at the Sidi Salem reservoir, which supplies water to almost 3 million Tunisians, including the capital Tunis.
Years of drought have left its water level critically low, an ominous sign for the region’s future.
The surface of the lake lies 15 meters below a high-water mark left by floods in 2018. Engineer Cherif Guesmi says that he has seen “terrifying climate change” during a decade working at the dam.
“The situation today is really critical,” he said.
“There’s hardly been any rain since a 2018 flood, and we’re still using that water today.”
As Tunisia sweltered in record temperatures topping 48 degrees Centigrade (118 Fahrenheit) in August, the reservoir lost 200,000 cubic meters per day from evaporation alone, he said.
Despite heavy rain in late October, little fell in the dam’s catchment area and the reservoir remains at just 17 percent of capacity, according to official figures this week.
Tunisia’s neighbors face similar challenges. The North African nations of Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia are among the 30 most water-stressed countries in the world, according to the World Resources Institute.
Experts warn this could drive social change that is likely to upset the region’s tenuous sociopolitical balances.
Fileli has also had to delay plans to sow winter wheat or barley in his fields.
He lists the knock-on effects: Smaller crops mean farmers fall deeper into debt and hire fewer seasonal workers, adding to an 18 percent unemployment rate which has pushed many to leave the country.
“My son is saying, ‘Dad, should I go and find work in Tunis or somewhere else? If things stay like this I have no future here’.”
The problems facing Tunisia are felt across the region.
“The water table across North Africa is dropping due to a combination of over-pumping and lack of precipitation,” said Aaron Wolf, a professor of geography at Oregon State University.
He cited Libya’s massive Man Made River, a huge system built under the late dictator Muammar Qaddafi, to pump “fossil water” from finite aquifers in the southern desert to the country’s coastal cities.
In Algeria — the scene of huge forest fires in August — valuable drinking water is regularly used for irrigation and industry.
And in Morocco, drought has “strongly affected agricultural production,” according to the economy ministry.
Rabat’s Agriculture Minister Mohammed Sadiki has told parliament that rainfall is down 84 percent from last year.
Wolf said the implications of drought go far beyond the countryside, causing migration within and across national borders.
“It’s in all parties’ interests to solve rural water problems,” he said.
“Drought drives all the things that lead to political instability: rural people migrating to the city, where there is no support for them, exacerbating political tensions.”
Hamadi Habaieb, head of water planning at Tunisia’s environment ministry, said a combination of less rainfall and a growing population would mean that by 2050, the country would have “far less” water available per person.
“Tunisia needs to adapt,” he said.
But he insisted that “farming has a future in Tunisia, although we will need to move toward very specific crops ... that can deal with a lack of water and to climate change.”
For Fileli, any solution may come too late to save his business — and the farming career of his son, aged 20.
“I’m thinking of giving up, going to the capital, somewhere else,” said Fileli.
“As long as there’s no water, no rain, why stay here? At least my children could find another future.”


Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

Updated 06 July 2022

Sudan’s Burhan relieves civilian members of the sovereign council from duties

  • Army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition

CAIRO: Sudan’s military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan issued a decree relieving the five civilian members of the sovereign council from their duties, a statement on the council’s telegram account said on Wednesday.
Burhan said on Monday the army would not participate in internationally led dialogue efforts to break its stalemate with the civilian opposition, and urged political and revolutionary groups to start talks to form a transitional government.


Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

  • At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian man was killed by the Israeli military during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Rafiq Riyad Ghannem, 20, was “shot by the occupation (Israeli army)” near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, the ministry said in a statement, adding that he was killed in the town of Jaba.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Sunday, a 17-year-old Palestinian died after being shot a day earlier in another Israeli army raid in the same town.
At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank, among them suspected militants and non-combatants.
Israeli security forces have launched near-daily raids in the West Bank following a spate of attacks in Israel in recent months.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed mainly in attacks carried out by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Three Arab Israeli attackers have also been killed.


Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

ALGIERS: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met publicly for the first time in over five years, on the sidelines of Algerian independence anniversary celebrations.
Algeria’s state broadcaster reported late Tuesday that representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Islamist Hamas movement also attended this meeting, which it called “historic.”
The pair, who officially last met face-to-face in Doha in October 2016, were brought together in a meeting with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, whose country marked the 60th anniversary of independence from France.
Abbas’ secular Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority that rules the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has been at loggerheads with Hamas since elections in 2007, when the Islamists took control of Gaza.
Tebboune and Abbas also signed a document to name a street “Algeria” in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
As well as Abbas and Haniyeh, Tebboune on Tuesday hosted several foreign dignitaries, who watched a huge military parade to mark independence in 1962 when Algeria broke free from 132 years of French occupation.


Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Updated 05 July 2022

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

  • "We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15," said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune
  • He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied

ALGIERS: Algeria said Tuesday it would reopen its land border with Tunisia later this month, more than two years after it was shut at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15,” said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied, who was leaving the country after attending a huge parade marking 60 years since Algeria’s independence from France.
Passengers had been blocked from crossing the border since March 2020 to stop the Covid-19 illness spreading, although cargo traffic had continued.
Being cut off from a neighbor of some 44 million people has dealt a serious blow to Tunisia’s tourism industry.
More than three million Algerians usually visit the country every year, according to local media.
Air and sea links between the two countries were restored in June 2021.


Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

Updated 05 July 2022

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

  • Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is attending the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London.

The event, which is being held on July 5-6, is hosting 500 religious, government and civil society leaders from 60 countries to call for more action to protect freedom of religion or belief around the world.

In the opening speech of the conference, the UK’s Prince Charles said in a recorded message: “Freedom of conscience, of thought and of belief is central to any truly flourishing society. It allows people to contribute to their communities without fear of exclusion, to exchange ideas without fear of prejudice, and to build relationships without fear of rejection. A society where difference is respected, where it is accepted that all need not think alike, will benefit from the talents of all of its members.”

Speaking at the conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Center in London, UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss said: “The freedom to believe, to pray and commit acts of worship, or indeed not to believe is a fundamental human freedom and has been one since the dawn of time. Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful. This fundamental right is covered in the very first clause of Magna Carta and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is one of the Four Freedoms Franklin D. Roosevelt said were ‘essential everywhere in the world.’”

Yesterday, the Egyptian minister, at the start of his London visit, met UK Minister of State for North Africa, South and Central Asia, the Commonwealth and the UN Lord Tariq Ahmed. The two discussed the conference, Egypt’s preparations for hosting and chairing COP27 in November, and the importance of continuing coordination between Egypt and the UK.