Environmental issues a low priority for Tunisians

Magharebia in Tunis/Tunisia/Jamel Arfaoui

Most Tunisians do not consider the environment when making everyday choices, a new poll reveals.

[Jamel Arfaoui] Tunisians' outdoor activities contrast with new poll results showing little interest in "green" issues.

Despite all the current government's efforts to involve the Tunisian citizen in protecting the environment, more than half of Tunisians pay no attention to this issue, according to a first-of-its-kind poll just released by the Green Party.

To mark the National Day of Cleanliness and Environmental Protection on Friday (June 11th), President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali unveiled an organic waste energy-recovery unit and said that he is committed to diversifying energy sources and creating "green zones" nationwide.

But the poll, released June 5th to coincide with World Environment Day, indicates that the government message is not hitting its intended target.

More than 62% of respondents had never heard of the Green Party in Tunisia, which was created in 2005 and holds five seats in Parliament. 62% of those polled are completely unaware of local or international environmental issues.

Tunisians do not consider environmental issues when shopping, the poll reveals. Shoppers said the decision to buy is determined by the price and quality of the product, and an eco-label is only a third concern. Only 4.4% of respondents, which included all ages and socio-economic groups, were interested in whether products are purified or advertised as chemical-free.

The goal of the poll is to "adopt a modern approach in dealing with the political issue and the national eco-system", the president of the Green Party, Mongi Khamassi, told Magharebia. "It's one of the ways to participate in democracy."

"We have to adopt a new approach in reaching out to the citizens to learn about their expectations. The way of thinking has changed because of globalisation, and we have to adjust to this change," Khamassi said, adding that his party tries to "discuss and exchange ideas about environmental problems".

Educational level and professional status largely determined the level of interest Tunisians have in the environment. More than 45% of respondents who identified themselves as "very interested" in the issue are highly educated.

Place of residence is also a key factor. According to the poll, interest in environmental issues is higher in the north, despite the fact that the environment is a critical concern in southern industrial areas like Gafsa.

The poll asked Tunisians to choose three environmental issues that are most important to them, from a list of ten. Air pollution was the biggest concern for poll-takers, with 57% of votes, followed by the scarcity of water resources (43.4%) and the destruction of the landscape (36.1%). The survey also shows that less than half support the use of nuclear energy (46%). Those against building a nuclear power plant to provide electricity (11%) have a high level of education and high income.

"Protecting the environment is the responsibility of every citizen, the civic society and the government," said Faten Charkaoui, who represents the Green Party in Parliament. "Addressing environmental issues is a pressing issue that should draw attention in the short and long term."

In contrast with the poll results, Tunisian residents contacted by Magharebia said more needs to be done on the environmental front.

Saida Ellefi, a housewife in a middle-class neighbourhood, said she was not surprised by the poll's outcome.

This content was commissioned for Magharebia.com.