|| Assessment and Provision of Environmental Flows in Mediterranean Watercourses
RIVER FLOW REGULATION AND WETLAND CONSERVATION IN A DRY COUNTRY: ICHKEUL, TUNISIA
Basic Concepts, Methodologies and Emerging Practice
Tuesday 20 July 2004, by
In 1989, at the invitation of the Tunisian Government, a mission from the World Bank
prepared a review of environmental issues in Tunisia. The mission’s report led to the
adoption of a National Plan for the Environment and in December 1990 to a meeting of
international funding bodies interested in providing funds for implementation, only the
second of its kind at world level (after Madagascar). At institutional level, the World Bank
report led to the establishment of the National Agency for the Protection of the Environment
(ANPE), originally responsible to the Prime Minister’s office and, since the setting up of the
Ministry of the Environment and Land Use Planning in October 1991, to this Ministry.
One of the first tasks entrusted to ANPE was to investigate the inter-related issues of
conservation and water resource use at Ichkeul, and it has continued to take the lead in this
role until the present day, though responsibility for the management of Ichkeul and other
National Parks remained, as it does today, with the DGF.
As a first step, ANPE decided to hold an international seminar on Ichkeul, with extremely
broad participation from within Tunisia and from other interested and concerned parties
outside the country, but in particular from around the Mediterranean basin. This seminar was
held from 16-18 February 1990, and was one of the earliest and most thorough attempts in the
region to reconcile socio-economic imperatives related to water management with
biodiversity conservation. The seminar reaffirmed the necessity of the dams and the
integrated water supply and management system, and decided that more detailed studies of
the functioning of the Ichkeul ecosystem were required to define how the site could be
protected and managed.
The detailed studies recommended by the international seminar were carried out over the
period 1993-1995, and an exhaustive series of seven different reports on their findings was
published in 1996 under the title "Study for the Safeguarding of the Ichkeul National Park".
They devoted particular attention to the impact of the Sejnane Dam, the largest of the six, due
to be completed by 1994 and filled from 1994 to 1997.
These reports noted that releases of water from the dams would be necessary if the principal
ecosystems of the park were to be maintained. They suggested that if an annual amount of
over 280 MCM from all sources (i.e. including not only environmental flows from the dams,
but also inflow from undammed rivers, local precipitation and run-off), then the conservation
of the ecosystem could be ensured; if total inflow was at a level between 230 and 280 MCM
the pondweed Potamogeton/ waterbird link could be maintained, though some biological
components of the ecosystem would be at risk; if the inflows went below 230 MCM then
there would be great uncertainty since such a situation had never previously been met. The
studies noted that there would be a need for political decisions on the amounts of water to be
released, and on the precise origin of these environmental flows. The most difficult period
would be 1995-2000 when the Sejnane dam was being filled, but that after 2000, by which
time the Sidi Barrak Dam on another catchment should be operational, environmental flows
from this new dam should be possible.
In addition to their recommendations on environmental flows, the reports addressed a number
of other issues:
ways of managing the sluice;
socio-economic problems: the lack of employment opportunities for the 80 families
living inside the Park on the mountain (particularly after the closing of the quarries)
and hence over exploitation of grazing on the mountain and marshes, and greater
dependence on fishing in the lake;
institutional problems in management of the park (essentially the lack of a central
body with adequate authority to take wide-ranging decisions).
At international level the difficulty of resolving the needs of water supply and biodiversity
conservation were recognised when Ichkeul was included (with the support of the Tunisian
authorities) on Ramsar’s Montreux Record ("of Ramsar sites where there is actual or potential
change of ecological character") in 1990, and on the World Heritage in Danger list in 1996.
Source : IUCN Water & Nature Initiative Website
version of this page