“All This for a Drink of Water”: New Documentary Studies Water Injustices

Tunis – Fadil Aliriza
One side of an old man’s face remains permanently limp and drooping as he speaks to documentary filmmaker Habib Ayeb, who is standing off camera. Wearing a rumpled and oversized gray formal jacket and a red-and-white patterned fabric around his head that they call a “Zunnar” or “Lahfa” in northwest Tunisia, he shows the cameras the makeshift rainwater system his family uses for drinking water. He said when he traveled from his countryside home to the local government office to demand water, police beat him and he became so angry he had a stroke.

“All this for a drink of water…police humiliated me,” he says.

According to official statistics, Tunisia appears to be a success story when it comes to providing people with water. But statistics are “the State’s knowledge about itself…inseparable from mechanisms of control,” as scholar Béatrice Hibou has written (on page 17). Habib Ayeb’s latest documentary “Om Layoun” shows us what the State might not want to know about water in Tunisia: that many people do not have access, have lost access, or have had access set at a price they cannot afford due to privatization.

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