Tunisia’s massive rubbish problems: Will a ‘green police’ unit help?

TUNIS: Wearing the light-blue protective mask of a surgeon, Lotfi Gharbi is sitting at his white piano surrounded by piles of rubbish.
Piled high at the side of the street are torn plastic bags, with household rubbish spilling out of them.
These pictures from a protest in Tunisia spread quickly on social media two years ago, but since then little has happened.
Similarly, in 2014 young Tunisians throughout the country took photos of illegal waste dumping and published them on the Internet.
Just off a bit from the hotel complexes of Hammamet and Djerba, plastic bags still are fluttering across the beach, many winding up entangled in shrubs and trees.
Since the revolution of 2011, Tunisia’s problem with rubbish has just kept getting bigger.
So big that the government has launched a new environmental police unit that people have dubbed the “green police” to try to get things under control.
One of those policemen is Radhwan Derwisch, who on a recent day was patrolling in his white pick-up truck along the seaside promenade of La Marsa, a small suburb of the capital Tunis. After glancing at a side street he stopped and got out.
He saw workers at a construction site simply dumping rubbish and sand onto the street.
Derwisch could impose a fine of up to 300 dinars ($124), but the workers tell him that the foreman is not around. And none of them has any identification. So Derwisch lets them off with a warning.
“The people understand what we are doing here, but they aren’t changing their behaviour,” he says. “For decades they have learned nothing else.”
For a good half a year now Derwisch and his “green police” colleagues have been patrolling the northern parts of Tunis.
They are supposed to punish people caught littering, but above all to sensitise them about the issues.
Even state authorities were occasionally seen simply dumping their rubbish out in nature areas, noted Environment Minister Riadh Mouakher when he officially launched the green police last year.
Starting out in some districts around the capital Tunis, the environmental police are gradually supposed to extend their work to 74 communities throughout the country.
“The problem is that after the revolution nobody felt responsible or did anything,” says Derwisch.
According to a survey of the Heinrich-Boell Foundation, a German think-tank close to the Greens party, 72 per cent of Tunisians questioned said the environment was in “bad” shape. But only 0.6 per cent
considered the environment to be a real current problem. Peoples’ concerns are presently more about battling poverty, rising prices and corrupt bureaucrats.
“Nobody wants to live amidst rubbish,” says Simon Ilse of the Boell Foundation in Tunis.
“The Tunisians are also aware that the rubbish has a negative impact on their image with tourists.”
Over and over there are discussions about cleanliness and waste disposal.
Increasingly, people see that they themselves bear responsibility.
— dpa