Rabah Ben Othman, the dream of a clean and healthy city

The mining town of Redeyef grew up at the foot of industrial phosphate washing and storage facilities. The surrounding semi-desert landscape has been largely destroyed by mining for over a century. The Gafsa region in southwestern Tunisia is one of the largest phosphate zones in the world. It includes eight quarries and eleven laundries.

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Rabah Ben Othman casts a reproachful glance at the huge machines that are digging and overturning the rock. “Standards are not being met, they use too powerful explosives to extract the ore as quickly as possible,” he is raging. For three years, the 42-year-old activist has been implementing an environmental justice project supported by CCFD-Terre Solidaire and European funds within the Gafsa regional section of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, an important civil society organization born after the 2011 revolution.

“The earth is covered with dust”

Contrary to its commitments, the Compagnie des phosphates de Gafsa (CPG) operating company has not made progress, he said.. “We filed five complaints against CPG, three due to natural disasters due to explosions that damaged homes, one due to dust-related respiratory diseases – our region is the most affected by cancer – and the last in the name of the right to water due to pumping excessive amounts into the tablecloth, in while the water used for washing is not reused”, says Rabah Ben Osman. But according to him, given the power of the CPG, “The court does not want such a trial”.

Down on the road to Tabedit, many plots were abandoned on the site of what used to be a large garden market. “With every explosion, almost every two days, the water in the wells turns gray for long minutes andthe ground is covered with dust. And when phosphate trucks aren’t covered, they kick up dust. The CPG has to hose down the road every time, but it only does it at high pressure.” he complains.

In 1958, the already mentioned geographer Roger Brunet in Annals of Geography, “a wind that periodically kicks up showers of gray dust, which phosphate clearing yields in impressive quantities.”

“I have built a little conscience in these matters”

But in Redeef, first of all, you need to get a job at CPG, the employer of the region! About 150 sitiners have been blockading the washing plant since November 2020, demanding hiring, as have hundreds since the 2011 revolution. Often these were fictitious jobs in environmental subsidiaries, landscaping and gardening to assuage job seekers’ anger, the Tunisian Observatory of Economics stressed in February 2022.

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Rabah Ben Osman still feels alone in his struggle. But certainly not hit. “We live in a disaster zone.. We have the right to live in a healthy environment! »he exclaims. Former French teacher who was fired when the private school he taught closed “built a little awareness about these issues.” And he armed himself with trainings: environmental jurisprudence, advocacy and negotiation techniques, economic and social rights, etc. “It is the moral obligation of the citizen and the activist to help change the mentality. »

“I have reduced my ambitions, but we will achieve our goal! »

“You only need to look at the city to see that the inhabitants do not pay attention to the environment”, he laments as he walks through a city littered with rubbish and shredded plastic bags. “Even my wife is not sensitive to it” he adds. He remains convinced that sooner or later he will convince by pointing to the symbolic example of the city of El Guettar, located 90 kilometers to the east, with its immaculate streets. An exceptional case in Tunisia. “This is the cleanest city in the country. The more residents participate in garbage collection, the lower their taxes. And it works very well! “, he rejoices.

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In Redeyef, the municipality saw no interest in this. “Even without her, we’ll get there, he assures. We’re going to start small, in a pilot area with 150 families. We will find volunteers, mobilize scouts, raise awareness and distribute garbage bags for sorting. I have reduced my ambitions, but we will achieve our goal! »


Extract. “In Search of Integrated Solutions”

The CCFD-Terre Solidaire approach to Lent is directly inspired by the encyclicals. Laudato si’and Fratelli tutti Pope Francis: “The causes of the pollution of a place require an analysis of the functioning of society, its economy, its behavior, its ways of understanding reality. Given the magnitude of change, it is no longer possible to find a specific and independent answer to each part of the problem. It is necessary to search for complex solutions that take into account the interaction of natural systems with each other and with social systems. These are not two separate crises, one ecological and the other social, but one single and complex socio-ecological crisis. The possibilities for a solution require an integrated approach to fighting poverty, restoring the dignity of the disadvantaged and, at the same time, preserving nature. »
Laudato si’, paragraph 139

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