General strike planned against growing waste crisis in Sfax region in Tunisia

The waste crisis which has been ongoing for several months was further aggravated by the reopening of a controversial landfill by the authorities in defiance of court orders, giving rise to environmental and public health concerns

December 01, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Protest in Tunisia
(Photo: Middle East Monitor/Houssem Zouari/Anadolu Agency)

Tunisians in the city of Sfax, the second-largest city in Tunisia, will observe a general strike to protest the continuing waste crisis in the region, according to a report quoting Tunisian civil society groups in Middle East Monitor on Tuesday, November 30. Salim Marrakchi, a spokesperson for the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts in Sfax, during an interview with a local radio station said that national organizations as well as local civil society groups have decided to implement a “day of anger” in the region followed by a general strike against the rapidly deteriorating environmental situation.

According to Marrakchi, “During the day of anger, all city outlets will be closed and all activities in the city will be suspended. The situation in the region is catastrophic environmentally, health-wise and epidemiologically, due to the accumulation of waste for more than 60 days.” The waste crisis in the region has been ongoing for the last two months after authorities closed a controlled landfill in the town of Aguereb due to opposition by local residents. This has resulted in the accumulation of garbage and industrial waste out in the open on the streets, markets, in front of households, residential buildings and even hospitals.

The authorities had stopped the collection of trash complaining of a lack of alternatives for waste disposal. Following protests by locals spanning several weeks against the authorities, the Ministry of Environment illegally opened the controversial landfill last month. This was in spite of a judicial order forbidding its use for waste disposal purposes. The move led to more protests by residents as well as criticism from environmental activists and rights groups due to serious environmental and health consequences from the harmful chemicals and gases emanating from the landfill’s accumulated waste. There is also the possibility of the spread of diseases among the local population directly linked to the use of the landfill. The local and national government is accused of bypassing serious public health and environmental concerns by reopening the landfill instead of looking for alternative solutions.

The protests against the waste crisis and the reopening of the landfill took a violent turn last month when security forces ended up killing a protester on November 8. The security forces used tear gas canisters and violently attacked a popular demonstration resulting in further violence, with protesters throwing stones in retaliation. In the aftermath of the killing, protesters burnt down a national guard station the next day as security forces were forced to vacate the area by the protesters. Tunisia’s biggest labor union, UGTT, had called for a general strike by the public and private sector to protest the landfill reopening and the violence by security forces.